The Amazon Rainforest: The World's Largest Rainforest

ByRhett A. Butler[Last update June 4, 2020]

The Amazon River Basin is home to the largest rainforest on Earth. The basin -- roughly the size of the forty-eight contiguous United States -- covers some 40 percent of the South American continent and includes parts of eight South American countries:Brazil,Bolivia,Peru,Ecuador,Colombia,Venezuela,Guyana, andSuriname, as well asFrench Guiana, a department of France.

The Amazon rainforest in Peru. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.

Reflecting environmental conditions as well aspast human influence, the Amazon is made up of a mosaic of ecosystems and vegetation types including rainforests, seasonal forests, deciduous forests,flooded forests, andsavannas.

The basin is drained by the Amazon River, the world's largest river in terms of discharge, and the second longest river in the world after the Nile. The river is made up of over 1,100 tributaries, 17 of which are longer than 1000 miles, and two of which (the Negro and the Madeira) are larger, in terms of volume, than the Congo river.

The river system is the lifeline of the forest and its history plays an important part in the development of its rainforests.

The Amazon basin
Country Tree cover extent
Primary forest extent
Tree cover loss since
Tree cover loss
Primary forest loss
Bolivia 44,854,868 28,815,724 10.0% 3,335,988 1,630,465
Brazil 373,904,915 310,498,565 10.2% 22,238,014 12,940,179
Colombia 51,027,994 43,336,799 4.1% 1,229,310 774,500
Ecuador 10,929,034 9,093,550 3.5% 272,369 106,585
French Guiana 8,114,787 7,805,457 0.9% 43,026 30,305
Guyana 18,908,103 17,168,399 1.1% 143,957 92,979
Peru 76,035,841 67,149,825 4.0% 2,097,146 1,372,976
Suriname 13,856,308 12,648,491 1.3% 141,422 100,382
Venezuela 36,247,586 32,441,439 1.6% 375,760 249,075
TOTAL 633,879,436 528,958,249 7.9% 29,876,992 17,297,446


The Amazon is the world's biggest rainforest, larger than the next two largest rainforests — in the Congo Basin and Indonesia — combined.

As of 2020, the Amazon has 526 million hectares of primary forest, which accounts for nearly 84% of the region's 629 million hectares of total tree cover. By comparison, the Congo Basin has around 168 million hectares of primary forest and 288 million hectares of tree cover, while the combined tropical areas of Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Malaysia, and Australia have 120 million hectares of primary forest and 216 million hectares of tree cover.


At one time Amazon Riverflowed westward, perhaps as part of a proto-Congo river system from the interior of present day Africa when the continents were joined as part of Gondwana. Fifteen million years ago, the Andes were formed by the collision of the South American plate with the Nazca plate. The rise of the Andes and the linkage of the Brazilian and Guyana bedrock shields, blocked the river and caused the Amazon to become a vast inland sea. Gradually this inland sea became a massive swampy, freshwater lake and the marine inhabitants adapted to life in freshwater. For example, over 20 species ofstingray, most closely related to those found in the Pacific Ocean, can be found today in the freshwaters of the Amazon.

About ten million years ago, waters worked through the sandstone to the west and the Amazon began to flow eastward. At this time the Amazon rainforest was born. During the Ice Age, sea levels dropped and the great Amazon lake rapidly drained and became a river. Three million years later, the ocean level receded enough to expose the Central American isthmus and allowmass migrationof mammal species between the Americas.

The Ice Ages caused tropical rainforest around the world to retreat. Althoughdebated, it is believed that much of the Amazon reverted to savanna and montane forest (seeIce Ages and Glaciation). Savanna divided patches of rainforest into "islands" and separated existing species for periods long enough to allow genetic differentiation (a similar rainforest retreat took place in Africa. Delta core samples suggest that even the mighty Congo watershed wasvoid of rainforestat this time). When the ice ages ended, the forest was again joined and the species that were once one had diverged significantly enough to be constitute designation as separate species, adding to the tremendous diversity of the region. About 6000 years ago, sea levels rose about 130 meters, once again causing the river to be inundated like a long, giant freshwater lake.

Note: Human populations have shaped the biodiversity of the Amazon. SeeAmazon peoplefor more.

The world's largest rainforests[more]
1. Amazon Basin,南美
2.Congo Basin,Africa
3. Indonesian Archipelago,Southeast Asia

何w large is the Amazon rainforest?

The extent of the Amazon depends on the definition. The the Amazon River drains about 6.915 million sq km (2.722 sq mi), or roughly 40 percent of South America, but generally areas outside the basin are included when people speak about "the Amazon." The biogeographic Amazon ranges from 7.76-8.24 million sq km (3-3.2 million sq mi), of which just over 80 percent is forested. For comparison, the land area of the United States (including Alaska and Hawaii) is 9,629,091 square kilometers (3,717,811 sq km).

Nearly two-thirds of the Amazon lies inBrazil.

Amazon rainforest cover by country in 2020 according to analysis of satellite data by Hansen et al 2020.


查瓦利河,亚马逊河的一条支流,forms the border between Peru and Brazil. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.

Today the Amazon River is the most voluminous river on Earth, carrying more than five times the volume of the Congo or twelve times that of the Mississippi, draining an area nearly the size of the forty-eight contiguous United States. During the high water season, the river's mouth may be 300 miles wide and every day up to 18 billion cubic meters (635 billion cubic feet) of water flow into the Atlantic. That discharge, equivalent to 209,000 cubic meters of water per second (7.3 million cubic feet/sec), could fill over 7.2 million Olympic swimming pools per day or supply New York City's freshwater needs for nine years.

The force of the current -- from sheer water volume alone -- causes Amazon River water to continue flowing 125 miles out to sea before mixing with Atlantic salt water. Early sailors could drink freshwater out of the ocean before sighting the South American continent.

河目前吨sedime暂停nt all the way from the Andes and gives the river a characteristic muddy whitewater appearance. It is calculated that 106 million cubic feet of suspended sediment are swept into the ocean each day. The result from the silt deposited at the mouth of the Amazon is Majaro island, a river island about the size of Switzerland.

The Amazon's influence on the movement of moistureextends beyond the water that flows down the Amazon river. The trees of the Amazon rainforestpump vast quantities of water vapor into the atmosphereevery day via transpiration. While much of this water falls locally as rain, some of this moisture is carried by airflowsacross other parts of the continent, including the agricultural heartland of South America to the south. This movement has been likened to "flying rivers". By one estimate, 70% of Brazil's gross national product comes from areas that receive rainfall generated by the Amazon rainforest.


Flooded forest in the Peruvian Amazon. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.

While the Amazon Basin is home to the world's largest tropical rainforest, the region consists of myriad other ecosystems ranging from natural savanna to swamps. Even the rainforest itself is highly variable, tree diversity and structure varying depending on soil type, history, drainage, elevation, and other factors. This is discussed at greater length in theAmazon rainforest ecology section.


亚马逊拥有更多种类的植物和一个nimals than any other terrestrial ecosystem on the planet -- perhaps 30 percent of the world's species are found there. The following numbers represent a sampling of its astounding levels of biodiversity:

  • 40,000 plant species
  • 16,000 tree species
  • 3,000 fish species
  • 1,300 birds
  • 430+ mammals
  • 1,000+ amphibians
  • 400+ reptiles


The Amazon has a long history of human settlement, but in recent decades the pace of change has accelerated due to an increase in human population, the introduction of mechanized agriculture, and integration of the Amazon region into the global economy. Vast quantities of commodities produced in the Amazon — cattle beef and leather, timber, soy, oil and gas, and minerals, to name a few — are exported today to China, Europe, the U.S., Russia, and other countries. This shift has had substantial impacts on the Amazon.

This transition from a remote backwater to a cog in the global economy has resulted in large-scale deforestation and forest degradation in the Amazon — more than 1.4 million hectares of forest have been cleared since the 1970s. An even larger area has been affected by selective logging and forest fires.

Conversion for cattle grazingis the biggest single direct driver of deforestation. In Brazil, more than 60 percent of cleared land ends up as pasture, most of which has low productivity, supporting less than one head per hectare. Across much of the Amazon, the primary objective for cattle ranching is to establish land claims, rather than produce beef or leather. But market-oriented cattle production has nonetheless expanded rapidly during the past decade.

Industrial agricultural production, especially soy farms, has also been an important driver of deforestation since the early 1990s. However since 2006 the Brazil soy industry has had a moratorium on new forest clearing for soy. The moratorium was a direct result ofa Greenpeace campaign.

Mining, subsistence agriculture, dams, urban expansion, agricultural fires, and timber plantations also result in significant forest loss in the Amazon.Loggingis the primary driver of forest disturbance and studies have shown that logged-over forests — even when selectively harvested — have a much higher likelihood of eventual deforestation.Logging roadsgrant access to farmers and ranchers to previous inaccessible forest areas.

Deforestation isn't the only reason the Amazon is changing. Globalclimate change is having major impactson the Amazon rainforest. Higher temperatures in the tropical Atlantic reduce rainfall across large extents of the Amazon, causing drought and increasing the susceptibility of the rainforest to fire. Computer models suggest that if current rates of warming continue, much of the Amazon could transition from rainforest to savanna, especially in the southern parts of the region. Such a shift could have dramatic economic and ecological impacts, including affecting rainfall that currently feeds regions that generate 70 percent of South America's GDP and triggering enormous carbon emissions from forest die-off. These emissions could further worsen climate change.

在亚马逊国家原始森林损失to analysis of satellite data by Hansen et al 2020.
Tree cover loss in Amazon countries according to analysis of satellite data by Hansen et al 2020.


While destruction of the Amazon rainforest is ongoing, the overall rate of deforestation rate in the region dropped between the mid-2000s and mid-2010s, mostly due to to the sharp decline in forest clearing in Brazil. However deforestation has been steadily rising in the region in more recent years.

Brazil's decline in its deforestation rate between 2004 and 2012 was attributed to several factors, some of which it controls, some of which it doesn't. Between 2000 and 2010 Brazil established the world's largest network of protected areas, the majority of which are located in the Amazon region. In 2004, the government implemented a deforestation reduction program which included improved law enforcement, satellite monitoring, and the provision of financial incentives for respecting environmental laws. Independent public prosecutors offices played a particularly important role in pursing illegal activities in the Brazilian Amazon. The private sector also got involved, especially after 2006 when major crushers established a moratorium on new deforestation for soy. That soy moratorium was followed by the "Cattle Agreement", which major slaughterhouses and beef processors committed to source cattle only from areas where environmental laws were being respected.

何wever these conservation initiatives started to break down in the Brazilian Amazon in the mid-2010s. Major cattle producers circumvented the rules through livestock laundering, while financial incentives for conserving forests failed to materialize at the expected scale needed to change landowners' behavior. The Temer and Bolsonaro Administrations dismantled environmental regulations, reduced environmental law enforcement, stripped conservation areas and indigenous territories of protections, and encouraged a wide range of industries (mining, logging, agribusiness) to expand extraction and conversion in the Amazon. In 2019,deforestation in the Brazilian started accelerating rapidly.

Protected areas and indigenous territories in the Amazon and adjacent areas. Data accessed via Global Forest Watch.


Can digital twins help save the Amazon? (commentary)(Nov 2 2023)
- Spread across highland forests, tropical steppes, and low-lying floodplains — all of which are affected by varying degrees of human influence — the Amazon is a complex ecosystem. Yet, it remains inadequately mapped.
- Considering the degree of threat facing the Amazon and its global importance, it is critical that to develop better methods for monitoring and comprehending this ecosystem.
- Carlo Ratti, the director of MIT’s Senseable City Lab, and Robert Muggah, the co-founder of the Igarapé Institute, argue that creating a “digital twin” of the Amazonian ecosystem could potentially serve as a means to aid its preservation while fostering a regional bioeconomy.
- This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily of Mongabay.

New satellite readings show full extent of mining in the Amazon Rainforest(Oct 24 2023)
- A new report from Monitoring of the Amazon Project (MAAP) compiles some of the most up-to-date and extensive analysis of mining in the Amazon.
- The map show 58 instances of illegal mining in virtually every Amazonian country (Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Suriname, Guyana), 49 of them illegal.
- The map also shows that there were 36 instances of mining activity overlapping with a protected area or Indigenous territory.

Despite severe drought, Amazon deforestation continues to slow(Oct 13 2023)
- Despite a severe drought, deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon is still on the decline, according to data released today Brazil’s national space research institute (INPE).
- INPE’s near-real-time deforestation monitoring system, DETER, detected 629 square kilometers of forest clearing in September, a 57% drop from last September.
- This decline in forest loss has occurred despite a severe drought that is affecting vast swathes of the Brazilian Amazon, drying up rivers and worsening the spread of agricultural fires.

New online map tracks threats to uncontacted Indigenous peoples in Brazil’s Amazon(Sep 27 2023)
- Mobi, a new online interactive map, draws information from public databases, government statistics and field observations to paint a comprehensive picture of the threats that uncontacted Indigenous peoples face in the Brazilian Amazon.
- The exact location of uncontacted communities is deliberately displaced on the map to avoid any subsequent attacks against them from those who engage in illegal activity in or near their territories.
- The tool can help Indigenous agencies deploy more effective protective actions to fend off threats such as diseases and environmental destruction, which can wipe out vulnerable populations.
- Activists hope the platform will help create a vulnerability index that ranks uncontacted populations according to the severity of threats against them, which can promote stronger public policies.

何w Canada’s growing presence in Latin America is hurting the environment(Sep 22 2023)
- Canada is up for a periodic U.N. review of its environmental and human rights record in Latin America, and activist groups want to make sure the country is held accountable for lacking regulations and oversight.
- The country is a leader in mining and oil investment in the region but doesn’t do enough to protect against deforestation, pollution and human rights violations against local communities, according to a series of reports published by activist organizations.
- The organizations said Canada should implement new regulations to protect environmental defenders and sign onto ILO Convention 169.

EU bill and new green policies spur progress on Brazil’s cattle tracking(Sep 21 2023)
- Brazilian banks have created new rules for releasing credit to meatpackers and slaughterhouses in Amazonian states in which their clients must implement traceability and monitoring systems by 2025 to show that their cattle didn’t come from illegal deforestation.
- Even the powerful Brazilian Agriculture and Livestock Confederation (CNA) recognizes the cattle tracking demand and proposes a traceability model to the federal government.
- A new study shows that existing cattle companies’ zero-deforestation commitments have reduced Brazilian Amazon deforestation by 15% and that the devastation could be halved by scaling up the implementation of supply chain policies.
- The ideal animal tracking model is individual, but experts defend a middle-of-the-road solution to reduce illegal deforestation based on cross-referencing from inter-ranch cattle transport data and the Rural Environmental Registry (CAR).

亚马逊英蒂genous leaders call for 80×2025 at Climate Week (commentary)(Sep 19 2023)
- As the world gathers in New York for Climate Week, Indigenous leaders are calling on UN delegates, environmental organizations, and the research community to back a stronger goal for Amazon protection.
- A central element of the “Amazonia For Life” campaign endorsed by 511 Indigenous nations across Amazonia and 1,200 organizations around the world, it calls on governments to protect at least 80% of the Amazon by 2025.
- “As a mother, a grandmother and a voice for a coalition of Indigenous peoples…I urge every state and each one of you to join us in our fight to protect at least 80% of Amazonia by 2025,” a new op-ed states.
- This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

‘We don’t have much time’: Q&A with climate scientist Pierre Friedlingstein(Sep 13 2023)
- “It’s not going in the right direction yet,” Pierre Friedlingstein tells Mongabay of the effort to meet the Paris Agreement goals; a member of the IPCC and a climate professor, he says he’s mildly optimistic about the trend in global emissions.
——Friedlingstein说他希望森林砍伐will go down in the coming years in Brazil, but he’s not sure that Indonesia, another major global carbon sink, is ready to go in the right direction at the moment.
- He says the COVID-19 pandemic showed that climate is still “not on the top of the list” of government priorities, given that all nations sought to boost economic growth after lockdowns, despite the carbon emissions they incurred.

Peru signs $20-million debt-for-nature swap with focus on Amazon rainforest(Sep 12 2023)
- Peru struck a $20 million debt-for-nature swap agreement with the U.S. that transfers debt payments to conservation initiatives like improving protected areas and natural resource management.
- The deal also included four NGOs: Conservation International, The Nature Conservancy, Wildlife Conservation Society and World Wildlife Fund. The groups donated a combined $3 million in addition to the $15 million contributed by the U.S.
- This is the third debt-for-nature swap deal struck with Peru. The U.S. has now made 13 debt-for-nature and debt-for-climate swaps in Latin America and 22 worldwide.

Deforestation in the Amazon rainforest continues to plunge(Sep 8 2023)
- Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon continues to decline, according to data released today by Brazil’s national space research institute, INPE.
- INPE’s deforestation alert system indicates that forest clearing in Brazil’s portion of the Amazon in August declined 66% compared to the same month last year.
- Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has seen a decrease for five consecutive months. This follows President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s commitment to curb the escalating forest loss in the region.
- Brazil is set to release its annual assessment of deforestation for the year ending July 31 in the coming weeks.


Blackwater lake and whitewater river in the Amazon

Victoria water lilies

Flowering tree in the Amazon rainforest canopy

Waura shaman

Oxbow lake in the Amazon


Blue poison dart frog

Leaf katydid

Jaguar in the Colombian Amazon


Creek in the Colombian Amazon

Passion flower in the Colombian Amazon

Woolly monkey

Javari River

Daybreak over the Amazon

Amazonian wax-tailed fulgorid

Amazon rainforest canopy in Brazil


Rivers in the Amazon rainforest

Squirrel monkey in the Amazon

Leaf-cutter ant in the Amazon

Giant monkey frog

Amazon rainforest canopy in Peru

Orange planthopper in Peru

Oxbow lake in the Amazon

Indigenous man with bird eggs

Indigenous Tikuna man in the Amazon rainforest

Javari river in the Amazon

Harpy eagle

Mantid in Suriname

Amazon leaf toad

Amazon bat


Frequently asked questions about the Amazon, answered

Where is the Amazon rainforest?

    The Amazon rainforest is located in South America.
何w big is the Amazon rainforest?
    The Amazon basin is roughly the size of the forty-eight contiguous United States. The forest itself covered roughly 634 million hectares in 2020, of which about 529 million hectares was classified as primary forest.
Where does the Amazon forest rank in terms of size among rainforests?
    The Amazon is Earth's largest rainforest. The Congo is the second largest rainforest.
What countries make up the Amazon rainforest?
    The Amazon includes parts of eight South American countries: Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, and Suriname, as well as French Guiana, a department of France.
Who owns the Amazon rainforest?
    The Amazon lies within several countries (see above). Within those countries, land may be privately owned, held by indigenous peoples in legally recognized territories, owned by collectives, or controlled by the government as national parks or public lands.
何w does the Amazon Rainforest get its name?
    The Amazon rainforest is named after the Amazon River, which is known as the Rio Amazonas in Spanish and Portuguese. "Amazonas" is derived from an ancient Greek myth about a tribe of mighty women warriors. It was bestowed on the river by Francisco de Orellana after a 16th-century attack on his expedition by long-haired native peoples. The attack was either led by women or men with long hair, prompting the name.
Who lives in the Amazon rainforest?
    The Amazon has a long history of human settlement. Today, millions of people live in cities and towns across the Amazon. This urban population vastly outnumbers the people living in villages and remote communities. However there are still traditional indigenous peoples living deep in the rainforest in voluntary isolation. Learn more aboutpeople in the Amazon rainforest.
Is the Amazon rainforest really Earth’s lungs?
    The Amazon rainforests is often called the "lungs of the planet" for its role in absorbing carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, and releasing moisture into the atmosphere through the process of transpiration. Rainforests produce oxygen during the day via photosynthesis and absorb oxygen at night via respiration. Therefore they aren't a major net source of oxygen in the atmosphere.
What causes fires in the Amazon?
    Fires in the Amazon typically result from either natural ignition sources like lightning or intentional setting by humans. Human activities are worsening conditions that allow fires to move from dry areas — like farms, pastures, and logged forests — into rainforests.
What animals live in the Amazon?
    亚马逊拥有更多种类的植物和一个nimals than any other terrestrial ecosystem on the planet -- perhaps 30 percent of the world's species are found there. These range from jaguars to tapirs to bats; parrots to hummingbirds; poison dart frogs to anacondas; leaf-cutter ants to blue morpho butterflies, and stingrays to piranha, to name but a small selection of well-known animals.
Why don't we just buy the Amazon?
    The countries that control the Amazon are sovereign nations. While it may be possible to buy some land to set aside for conservation, attempting to buy the entire Amazon is impossible. In general, the most effective conservation strategies in the region involve recognizing the land rights of indigenous peoples and ensuring that local people benefit from conservation and sustainable development initiatives.
What can we do to stop the Amazon burning?
    Fires in the Amazon are often a product of government policies governing land use, enforcement of environmental laws, and corporate guidelines for commodity sourcing. Encouraging landowners to carefully manage fires can greatly reduce the likelihood of agricultural fires burning into rainforests.
Why are forest fires getting worse?
    Deforestation and forest degradation increase the vulnerability of rainforests to fire by drying out the forest interior. At the same time, climate change is increasing the incidence of drought in the Amazon basin. When farmers, ranchers, and land speculators start fires, they can easily spread into the rainforest.
What is the environmental impact of Amazon forest fires?
    Rainforest fires threaten biodiversity through habitat destruction. Fires also release substantial amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, drive local and regional air pollution, and can even affect rainfall patterns.
Why is the Amazon rainforest important?
    The Amazon rainforest helps stabilize the world’s climate by sequestering carbon; provides a home for plant and animal species; helps maintain the water cycle, including generating rainfall at local, regional, and trans-continental scales; is a source for food, fiber, fuel, and medicine; supports forest-dependent people, including indigenous tribes living in voluntary isolation from the rest of humanity; and provides recreational, spiritual, and cultural value.
何w much of the Amazon rainforest has been destroyed? 亚马逊雨林是危险的吗?
    There are a number of animals that are potentially dangerous to humans, ranging from venomous snakes to electric eels to the jaguar, among vertebrates. However it's the small things that generally pose the greatest risks: disease-carrying mosquitos, viruses and bacteria, and biting ants. And don't forget humans: violence against environmental defenders and indigenous peoples is a major issue in the Amazon.
Why is the Amazon rainforest in danger?
    Accelerating deforestation, forest degradation, and drought in the Amazon is of great concern to scientists who warn that the entire biome may be near a tipping point where large areas of wet rainforest could transition to dry tropical woodlands and savanna. Such a transition could have dramatic implications for regional rainfall, with the Inter Tropical Convergence Zone potentially shifting northward, leading to drier conditions across South America's breadbasket and major urban areas. The impact on regional economies could be substantial, while the impact on ecosystem function and biodiversity of the Amazon could be devastating, according to researchers.

Amazon rainforest section contents: