R a i n f o r e s t s

“...trees of a thousand kinds and tall, so that they seem to touch the sky. I am told they never lose their foliage, and this I can believe for I saw them as green and lovely as they are in Spain in May...” Christopher Columbus

The earliest written description of rainforests in Western literature seems to be that of Christopher Columbus, but the term “regenwald” (rain forest) was first used by a German naturalist, A.F.W. Schimper, many centuries later, in 1898. Exploring rainforests had a profound impact on the thinking of some of the greatest of 19th century biologists and naturalists—Alexander von Humboldt, Alfred Russell Wallace and Charles Darwin. Darwin’s and Wallace’s experiences in rainforests shaped their theories of evolution through natural selection, which in turn inspired 20th century biology, leading to recent advances in molecular biology and genetic engineering.

The last few decades of this century have also given us a new understanding of, and appreciation for, rainforests: new techniques have allowed researchers to explore the canopy for the first time and to census its otherwise unseen inhabitants.