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Ask a Scientist: Your Botany and Rainforest Questions – Answered!

botany-rainforest

Green Kid Crafts’ mission is to inspire the next generation of environmental leaders.  And this July, as part of our Backyard Summer STEAM Camp, we shared our Botany and Rainforest boxes to kids around the world!  To encourage their curiosity and environmental education, we invited kids in our community to submit their questions and ideas about rainforests and botany. We were flooded with questions! Yay for Science! 

Good thing, we had just the right scientist to help answer these questions – Whitney Rapp, a botanist who lives in the rainforest.

 “Ask a Scientist… Anything!” Submissions for Botany and Rainforest Campside Chats!

Catch the replay here of our Ask a Scientist Campside Chat event with Whitney, as she takes on your tough questions about Botany and the Rainforest. And don’t forget to check out our Facebook page for upcoming events!

 

What does a botanist do? How do you become one? Did you always want to become a botanist?

Botanists study plants. This can be looking for rare plants to protect; finding and removing invasive plants to allow the native plants to thrive, or studying how the forest changes over time.  I always wanted to be a biologist.  In elementary school, I didn’t like writing, so I figured being a scientist would be better, but then I learned how important studying everything was to understand and communicate.  So, I recommend reading… and writing… and arithmetic.  I have a wide range of skills to use for many tasks needed.

I ended up getting a Biology degree in college, then a Masters in Ecological Landscape Design and Planning.  And about 20 years ago, I came here to Alaska to study invasive species and help preserve and protect important ecosystems. 

What are rainforests? Why are they called rainforests?

A rainforest means many trees grow in an area with lots of rain.  I live in a temperate rain forest, which means it is cool and wet year-round.  My area receives about 70” of rain per year, which is about the height of an adult.  Unlike a tropical rain forest, which is hot, my summers are usually in the 50s and winters around freezing.  Some winters I can get more than 6 feet of snow.

Is there a wood that doesn’t rot in the water? We live in a rainy climate.

Some woods are more rot-resistant because they naturally have oils and other chemicals that slow decay.  The most common in the United States are different types of cedar, but if you ask a sailor, one of the most prized woods for wet places is teak, which grows in tropical locations.  If you don’t have the right type of wood for rain, then you need to protect it better by painting or staining it to make it more water-resistant.

What kind of trees are in a rain forest?

My forest is dominated by over 100 ft tall Sitka spruce and western hemlock, which are both evergreens.  We have other trees on forest edges, growing in the shade below, or really wet places.  Compared to most other places, we do not have a lot of different types of trees, which is called diversity. But we do have some deciduous trees like Alder, Cottonwood. 

How much rain do they get in the rainforest?

Where I live, I get about 6 feet of rain a year, but areas not that far from me get over 10 feet.  If you were to get three quarters and stack them on top of each other, that is how much rain I get every day on average.

What animals live in rainforests?

I live in Alaska’s temperate rainforest, so I don’t have monkeys or jaguars or toucans.  I do have brown and black bears, porcupines, beavers, eagles, and more.  With all that rain, we have lots of streams, with most having salmon in them.

What kinds of meat-eating (carnivorous) plants do you see there?

My two common carnivorous plants are sundew and butterwort.  Both live in bog areas that are really wet and low in nutrients, so they trap insects with sticky leaves and get their nutrients by ingesting them. 

What kind of beans are in the botany box? Ours are growing great, and I want to know if I should put a pole or trellis for them to grow.

Good questions!  These are Blue Lake Bean Seeds or Bush Beans. You don’t need a trellis, they only grow about 2 ft tall. 

How many years away are we to losing the rainforest all together? What’s going to happen to all those beautiful animal species in years to come?

If deforestation continues at current rates, scientists estimate nearly 80 to 90 percent of tropical rainforest ecosystems will be destroyed by the year 2020. Deforestation is one of the main reasons for extinction because it leads to a direct loss of wildlife habitat as well as general degradation of their habitat. The removal of trees and other types of vegetation reduces available food, shelter, and breeding habitat. Animals may not be able to find adequate shelter, water, and food to survive within the remaining habitat.

Why do animals have different shaped teeth?

All animals have teeth that are adapted to eating certain types of food. For instance, herbivores, because they are plant eaters, have strong and flat molars that are made for grinding leaves and small or non-existent canine teeth. Carnivores have teeth that are shaped to slice and rip the meat they eat.

How much of the rainforests have scientists discovered?

More than 20 percent of the Amazon rainforest is already gone, and much more is severely threatened as the destruction continues. It is estimated that the Amazon alone is vanishing at a rate of 20,000 square miles a year.

What’s your favorite tree in the rainforest? Why is it your favorite?

I love the palm species Euterpe precatoria, a relative of the açaí palm Euterpe oleracea), whose sweet berries are growing in popularity worldwide. The researchers estimate that 5.2 billion Euterpe precatoria live in Amazonia.

What is the most endangered plant in the tropical rain forests and why?

Rafflesia Flower. This Amazon rain forest flower is considered one of the rarest and most endangered plants in the world.

How do you find new species in the rainforest? Do you hike around? Or people who live there tell you?

I usually hike around since there’s no better way to explore and find new things than to walk to the forest. Aside from knowing new species, walking around the rainforest is very relaxing to the mind and soul.

What’s the most complex things a rainforest creature builds?

The most complicated things I’ve seen that rainforest creatures build are their habitats – how they dig holes, collect leaves and twigs, and nest in huge rocks and tree roots. They have a unique way of expressing creativity.

How do the Yanomami make their village so big?

The Yanomami live in large, circular, communal houses called yanos or shabonos. Some can house up to 400 people. The central area is used for activities such as rituals, feasts, and games. The Yanomami are known as hunters, fishers, and horticulturists. The women cultivate cooking plantains and cassava in gardens as their main crops. Men do the heavy work of clearing areas of forest for the gardens

What are the coolest defenses plants have to protect themselves?

To keep small predators at bay, many plants have a mat of fine hairs on the surface of their leaves. To deter larger animals, some plants have sharp spines or thorns, while others have leaves that sting or are bitter to taste.

Do coffee beans come from rainforests?

The tropical rainforest is home to more than two-thirds of the world’s plant species. … Coffee beans grow in this area of the world along with bananas, making the rainforest an important part of a well-balanced breakfast.

What is the most poisonous thing in a rainforest?               

The wandering spider, found in the Amazon rainforest. The Brazilian wandering spider is the most venomous arachnid in the world. Even the scientific name of the spider Phoneutria means “murderess” in Greek.

How many birds are in the rain forest?

There are around 1300 species of birds found in the Amazon Rainforest. Rainforests are full of wildlife; in fact, 50% of all animals and plants are found in the rainforests.

What kinds of animals live in rainforests? Are there monkeys in rainforests?

There can be several species of monkeys living in just one rainforest. The Amazon Rainforest is located in South America and is one of the largest rainforests. Some of the species found here include spider monkeys, howlers, and squirrel monkeys.

How are monkeys grips so good?

They have long legs and arms that are flexible so that they can climb with them. Monkeys don’t swing through the trees, like many people believe. Only Apes can do that due to the away in which their shoulders are formatted.

 

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