The Amazon: What Everyone Needs to Know®

ISBN : 9780190668280

Mark J. Plotkin
256 Pages
140 x 210 mm
Pub date
Mar 2020
What Everyone Needs to Know


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  • Covers the whole Amazonian riverfront: the past, present, and future of a vast earth-supporting ecosystem
  • Explores the variety of life found in the Amazon, from its tiny insects to its massive canopy system
  • Vital to understanding human impact on the world's largest rainforest and current conservation efforts
  • Includes information on all nine Amazonian countries, as well as the indigenous tribes

The Amazon is a land of superlatives. The complex ecosystem covers an area about the size of the continental U.S. The Amazon River discharges 57 million gallons of water per second--in two hours, this would be enough to supply all of New York City's 7.5 million residents with water for a year. Its flora and fauna are abundant. Approximately one of every four flowering plant species on earth resides in the Amazon. A single Amazonian river may contain more fish species than all the rivers in Europe combined. It is home to the world's largest anteater, armadillo, freshwater turtle, and spider, as well as the largest rodent (which weighs over 200 lbs.), catfish (250 lbs.), and alligator (more than half a ton). The rainforest, which contains approximately 390 billion trees, plays a vital role in stabilizing the global climate by absorbing massive amounts of carbon dioxide--or releasing it into the atmosphere if the trees are destroyed. Severe droughts in both Brazil and Southeast Asia have been linked to Amazonian deforestation, as have changing rainfall patterns in the U.S., Europe, and China. The Amazon also serves as home to millions of people.
Approximately seventy tribes of isolated and uncontacted people are concentrated in the western Amazon, completely dependent on the land and river. These isolated groups have been described as the most marginalized peoples in the western hemisphere, with no voice in the decisions made about their futures and the fate of their forests. In this addition to the What Everyone Needs to Know® series, ecologist and conservation expert, Mark J. Plotkin, who has spent 40 years studying Amazonia, its peoples, flora, and fauna. The Amazon offers an engaging overview of this irreplaceable ecosystem and the challenges it faces.


What is a Tropical Rainforest?
What Do We Mean When We Say the Amazon?
Why is the Amazon Important?

Geology, Soils and Vegetation
Geological history - What is the geological history of Amazonia?
Soils - Do large and diverse Amazonian rainforests thrive on poor soil?
Terra preta - What is terra preta?
Vegetation - What are the major forest and vegetation types in Amazonia?
Savannas - What are savannas and how are they created?
Tepuis - What are tepuis?
Nutrient cycling - If the soils are so poor, how can lush rainforests flourish?

The Amazon
Source of the Amazon - What is the source of the Amazon River?
River types - What are the various river types in Amazonia?
Aquatic habitats - What are some of the characteristic aquatic habitats of Amazonia?
Casiquiare canal - What is the Casiquiare Canal?
Coral reef - Is there a coral reef in the Amazon?

1492 population
Languages - How many indigenous languages are there in Amazonia?
Paleoindians, the first arrivals - When did the first humans arrive in Amazonia?
Shamans - What is a Shaman?
Shrunken heads - Shrunken heads: fact or fiction?
Slash and burn agriculture - What is slash-and-burn agriculture?
Uncontacted tribes - Do uncontacted tribes still exist?

The Struggle for the Amazon
Treaty of Tordesillas - What was the Treaty of Tordesillas?
Aguirre - Was Werner Herzog's film "Aguirre, the Wrath of God," based on a historical figure?
Teixeira - What role did Pedro Teixeira play in the colonization of the Amazon?
Mapping - What is the history of the mapping of the Amazon?

The Advent of the European Scientists
Merian - Was the first European scientific explorer of the Amazon a woman?
Darwin - What is the connection between the Amazon and the origins of the Theory of Evolution?
Agassiz / Harvard

Amazon Rubber and the Jari Project
Rubber atrocities - What were the Putumayo Rubber Atrocities?
Rubber as commodity - How Did Amazonian Rubber Become A Key Global Commodity?
Rubber / Fordlandia - Why did Henry Ford fail at Fordlandia in Brazil?
Jari Project - Fordlandia redux - What was the Jari Project, and why did it fail?

Rondon / Mendes - Who were Cândido Rondon and Chico Mendes?

Amazonian biota
Faunal origins - What is the origin of the Amazonian fauna?
Vampire bats - Do vampire bats suck human blood?
Spiders - How dangerous are Amazonian spiders?
Cats, crocodilians and serpents - Do jaguars, crocs and snakes eat people in Amazonia?
Frogs - Are there hallucinogenic frogs in the Amazon Rainforest?
Pink dolphins - Are there pink dolphins in the Amazon?
Fish diversity - Why does Amazonia harbor the most diverse freshwater fish fauna in the world?
Candiru catfish - Is the tiny candiru catfish as terrifying as its reputation?
Electric eels - How dangerous are electric eels?
Piranhas - Do piranhas deserve their fearsome reputation?
Sharks - Are there man-eating sharks in the Amazon?

Ayahuasca - What is ayahuasca?
Bromeliads - What are the aerial aquaria of the Amazon?
Coca - What is the traditional use of coca in the Amazon?
Curare - What is Curare and Why is it Important?
Lianas - Why are lianas so important and yet so poorly understood?
Figs - Why are strangler figs not considered to be lianas?
Palms - Why are palms the single most useful group of organisms to the indigenous peoples of the Amazon?
Palms with economic promise - Which Amazonian palms offer the greatest economic promise for the future?
Victoria lily - Did an Amazonian water lily serve as the inspiration for steel frame architecture?

Cattle - What is the role of cattle ranching in Amazonian agriculture?
Dams - What is the status of hydroelectric dams in the Amazon?
Gold - What is the impact of gold mining in the Amazon?
Agriculture / Big - The Role of Export-Driven Large-Scale Agricultural Production in Deforestation
Agriculture / Small - What is the role of small-scale farming in deforestation?
Logging - What is the status of logging in the Amazon?
Climate Change - How will climate change affect Amazonia?
Deforestation - What drives deforestation in the Amazon?
Oil and gas - What is the impact of oil and gas exploration on forest peoples?
Overhunting - What is the impact of overhunting and overfishing on the Amazon?
China - What is the Impact of China in Amazonia?

Conservation - How to Save the Amazon?

About the author: 

Mark J. Plotkin is President of the Amazon Conservation Team. He is the author of Tales of a Shaman's ApprenticeMedicine Quest, and coauthored The Killers Within.

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