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Focus on Forests (text version)

Belize and its forests

map of Belize - (Showing location of Belize in central America)

Belize is a small country in Central America with a population of only about 220,000. About a third of the people make their living from some kind of agriculture. A lot of the food is eaten locally, but Belize also exports a lot of food. The main export crops are bananas, sugar cane and citrus fruits (although some people suggest that marijuana now brings in more foreign money). However, more than half the land area is still covered with the original vegetation, much of it tropical rainforest.

Tropical rainforests

cross section of a rainforest - (Showing a range of different trees, from a few metres to 30 metres high, the following descriptions refer to different parts of the picture)

At ground level it is often quite dark with little vegetation. In the soil, fungi, insects, moulds and bacteria break down the leaf litter and other debris. This makes the nutrients available to the roots of growing trees.

Where a tall tree has fallen, creating a clearing, the vegetation can grow quite thick.

There are many climbing plants (lianas) with long rope-like stems, which twine around the trees. Other plants, such as figs, start in a crevice of another tree and send down long roots to the ground.

Epiphytes are plants which grow on another plant but are not parasites.

The tops of the trees form a dense canopy, up to 40 metres above ground, where most of the mammals and birds live, feeding off the fruit and flowers.

The Belize forest is particularly important as far as plants and animals are concerned. Central America is a crossroads between the temperate north and the tropical south. Animals from the south include anteaters, possums, primates and rodents such as the paca and agouti. Animals from the north include pumas, raccoons, deer, peccaries and squirrels. There are over 130 species of mammal in Belize, some of which are under threat in neighbouring countries where much of the forest has disappeared.

Picture of a Tapir - Picture of a Jaguar - (both pictures are copyright Bruce Pearson, and are taken from the Collins Guide to Rare mammals)
Tapirs and jaguars are thriving in Belize although they are now extinct in El Salvador and rare in Honduras.

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