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Giant rodents save the rainforest

The National Acadmey of Sciences have proved that rodents, as big as 50cms long, are now the saviours of the South American rainforest. These furry creatures have taken on a role previously performed by the now extinct, gomphotheres, giant mammals who would unwittingly spread the seeds of large trees. The agoutis rodents have been tracked with radio-tags and the research has shown that one seed alone can be transported up to 8.75m by just one rodent. This dispersal of seeds is now thought to be underpinning the survival of the many different tree species in the rainforest.

Luckily for the trees, the agouti rats are notorious for theft and will happily steal seeds from rival rodents meaning some seeds are taken some distance away from the parent tree. Researchers have even recorded the same seeds being moved up to five times. A single seed could be tansported up to 68metres away form the parent tree. The gomphotheres would previously have eaten the fruit of the trees then dispersed the seeds through their faeces across the forests. The rodents, although feasting on the seeds, have unwittingly taken on the gomphotheres' role and having been ensuring the surival of many tree species by spreading the seeds.

Unfortunately the agouti rodent is hunted in some parts of the rainforest. The research has been proved within the protected Panamanian rainforest, on the research island of Barra Colorado. In addition during times of scarce supplies the rodents will eat all the nuts and seeds they collect, reducing the opportunities for dispersal.

The rainforest has always been at risk from outside risks such as poaching, unsustainable logging and agriculture. After much campaigning some South American countries are stepping up to protect the Amazon, such as in Brazil where 15 million hectares of rainforest now have protected status. The act of the agoutis rodents is an natural act of preservation but this alone can't save the trees, the plants or the thousands of wildlife species living in the rainforest.

With the growth of responsible tourism to these areas, income is growing for the indigenous populations and providing an incentive to protect their land. Instead of looking to income from nonrenewable resources, it is hoped tourism revenue will provide a much needed income for remote settlements in the forests and South American governments.

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