Despite what early European settlers and scientists believed, the Amazaon and other rainforests are not lush with vegetation due to rich soils. Land cleared for agriculture only produced a year or two of good harvest before crops died off. The reason for the lushness of the rainforest is nutrient cycling, where decaying plant matter is broken down quickly by bacteria, fungi, and termites. The decomposers break down leaf litter and dead wood into nutrients which living plants take up and utilize just as quickly. Even tall trees have shallow root systems, since the top six inches of decaying matter is the richest part of the soil. Once the forest is leveled and the nutrient cycle broken, it is not easy to rebuild the soil.
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