The tropical rainforests are among the most diverse and complex living environments on planet Earth. 170,000 of the nearly 250,000 flowering plants are found in the tropics and subtropics. That is 68 percent!
The rainforests of the far east, which include Borneo and Sumatra, are known to be two of the most complex rainforests of all. Both Borneo and Sumatra support 10% of Indonesia’s known plant species. They are also home to 12.5% of Indonesia’s mammals, and 17% of Indonesia’s other vertebrates.
Borneo alone is known to have 10,000 to 15,000 plant species and is as rich as the whole continent of Africa, which is nearly 40 times larger. In addition, Borneo has 3,000 species of trees, 2,000 orchids, and 1,000 ferns. A tiny 1.12 hectares (approximately 2.77 acres) of the Bornean rainforest included 264 tree species. These species did not even include its palms, lianas (a long-stemmed, woody vine), orchids, ferns, or other vegetation!
Borneo’s animal life is just as diverse. Borneo supports a variety of different and unique species. 222 mammals, 420 birds, 166 serpents, 100 amphibians, and 394 fresh-water fish. This does not include the invertebrates, which are by far the most numerous animal species in the tropical rainforests. Many of these animals are endemic, or unique to the island. These endemic animals include the proboscis monkey, hornbills, gibbons, clouded leopards, and orangutans!
Some of the many species that are found in Borneo and Sumatra:
Each of these different organisms is dependent on one another for the entire ecosystem to function properly. If areas of the forest are damaged or clear-cut, the whole system will fail. This means that the habitats for thousands of species may disappear, and can be lost forever.
If the rainforests were to be cleared out, the tropical, acidic, and nutrient-poor soils make it difficult for crops to prosper for more than a few years. The crops would eventually be replaced by weeds or coarse grasses such as alang-alang. These weeds and grasses have no economic use, are very hardy, not edible, and are potentially alleliotrophic (repells other plants from growing nearby). The areas become much like a desert.