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In contrast to the scrublands that border it to the south the Amazonian rainforest and the waters that drain it have a remarkable abundance of plant and animal life even though the ecosystem is a fragile one that can easily be destroyed While giving the impression of monotony because of the apparently similar tree crowns that rise to a more or less uniform height of around 150 to 200 feet these lands contain the greatest variety of plant species on Earth--many thousands less than half of which have been identified Furthermore serving as a defense mechanism against blight and other natural enemies individual plants of any species tend to be widely dispersed A typical acre of forest in the Amazon may contain 250 or more tree species compared for example with perhaps a dozen in any acre of woods in the northeastern United States Because the crowns of these forest giants form a virtually closed canopy allowing 10 percent or less of the sunlight to filter through there is little plant or animal life on the ground below The trees however are festooned with a wide variety of epiphytes bromeliads and lianas while their branches teem with animal life from insects snakes and tree frogs to numerous species of monkeys and a bewildering variety of birds Some 1400 bird species have been identified in the immediate vicinity of the main stream of the Amazon alone both in the treetops and within the complex ecosystem of the vrzea the riverine lands There along the riverbanks are also found alligators anacondas boa constrictors capybaras and a number of lesser reptiles and mammals In the waters themselves there are manatees freshwater dolphins and some 1500 identified species of fish with perhaps another 1000 unidentified species the variety includes many types of piranhas not all of them flesh-eating electric eels and some 450 species of catfish The Amazon is also home to the worlds largest fresh-water turtle of the
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