I grew up in coastal British Columbia and I must admit that I took for granted all the blessings of a mountainous rainforest environment. It was not until I left British Columbia that I fully appreciated that not every wilderness trail is lined with edible berries, mushrooms, and lilies; not every bend in the path reveals a towering, gushing waterfall, varied birds, mammals, amphibians, or insects do not appear every few feet, and that splendiferous meadow and mountain scenes are not to be had at every turn.
Looking back on my teenage years in British Columbia I now recognize that my weekend hikes in the rainforest mountains were more than just an experience of phenomenal natural beauty. They became spiritual revelations in my appreciating the extent of God’s bountiful, extravagant provision, as it were “a good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over.”1
For several decades ecologists have been touting the importance of rainforests (see figure 1) for sustaining the greatest possible diversity of plant and animal species. Now, a team of six ecologists is alerting the scientific community and society at large to the crucial role that mountains play in enhancing species diversity in rainforests.2
The team found that the diversity and diet breadth of herbivores (which correlates with herbivore health) was significantly higher in mountainous tropical rainforests than it was in flat lowland tropical rainforests. Given Earth’s great age and powerful forces of erosion, it is a wonder that the continents have any mountains still remaining. One of the miracles of planet Earth, however, is that its interior is so marvelously designed that it can sustain powerful plate tectonic activity (mountain building activity) for several billion years.3 This design is crucial for maintaining the recycling of nutrients. Thanks to this recent study, we now know that design also plays a role in making possible a wide diversity of herbivores and in enhancing the health of herbivores.
Figure 1: A Mountainous Rainforest
This rainforest on the side of a mountain in Strathcona Provincial Park on Vancouver Island, British Columbia supports a wide diversity of plants, birds, mammals, and insects.
Image credit: Hugh Ross