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The Invisible Rainforest 

Wobbly bridge in Eden Project Rainforest Biome
Water droplets on a banana leaf

Intro

Rainforests are part of the Earth’s natural ‘life support system’; an invisible world of interconnected cycles that support life on Earth. Rainforests are under threat. 

If the systems we rely on for fresh air, clean water, fertile soil, nutritious food, rich biodiversity, a stable climate and a natural recycling system are threatened, so are we. Bringing the invisible into view and exploring the interconnectedness of everything can transform our understanding of the world – and how we interact with it. 

How a mosquito sees the rainforest
Mosquito on grass

Some animals can see parts of this invisible world…

… it’s essential for their survival. 

… it’s essential for their survival. 

Mosquitos sense heat and carbon dioxide (CO₂), helping them track their food: warm-blooded animals – including us. Bats hear ultrasound and navigate in the dark using echolocation. Bees can see ultraviolet (UV) light. UV patterns on flowers guide them to their food. They also sense static electricity, signalling the approach of a storm – ‘time to head home’. 

If we could see through the animals’ eyes, would it enhance our understanding of our intimate connections with the natural world? Would that help us to better care for the environment that supports us? 

The weather maker 

Life above ground is intimately connected to the life below. Underground, a hidden world of mycorrhizal fungal threads form connections with the roots of nearly all rainforest plants. ‘Myco’ means fungi, ‘rhiza’ means root.  

Fungi growing on tree
Fungi close up

Fungal threads connect to plant roots in vast, underground networks. 

fungi

The fungi feed on sugars, made far above in the plants’ leaves and help the transfer of water and nutrients from soil to root to trunk to leaf - quid pro quo. Inside plants, a ‘two-way superhighway’ transports sugar down and water and mineral nutrients up. In the soil, sugar and mineral nutrients are even passed between plants via the fungal network. 

CGI of tree roots and fungi

Trees have their feet in the ground and heads in the sky

Water up 

Water up 

Water is literally pulled up the trees’ internal plumbing systems (xylem) as it evaporates out of the leaves as water vapour. This forms vast, white, sun-reflecting clouds that help cool the climate and make rain that waters lands near and far. Hence the name – ‘rain’ forests. 

Sugar down 

Carbon dioxide gas (CO₂) warms the Earth, and too much of it makes it too hot (like now). Plants capture CO₂ from the air and turn it into sugar (by adding sunlight and water). This process, called photosynthesis, releases oxygen as a by-product ‒ handy! Plants, mycorrhiza and animals (including us) use the sugar as an energy food and a building block. The forest trees, soil life and soil compost (dead stuff) are massive carbon stores. The more solid carbon compounds in the forest, the less CO₂ in the air. Cool! 

Clouds above rainforest

Rainforests are weather makers, climate regulators and Earth coolers.

Rainforests cool the planet.

Rainforests cool the planet. However, they are being destroyed at an alarming rate. Deforestation increases climate change and climate change, in turn, damages the rainforests – a vicious cycle. 

Lifeforms on Earth, including us, are part of the vast, invisible cycles of carbon and water that are partly driven by the rainforests. If we could see these systems, would it transform our understanding of the world and how we interact with it? Would it lead us to act to protect the rainforests? 

Forthcoming trial

Person in VR headset

Forthcoming trial

In collaboration with experiential art collective, Marshmallow Laser Feast, Eden will be developing an augmented reality (AR) experience within the Rainforest Biome, that will visualise the invisible worlds of the rainforest. ‘The Living Lens’ and ‘The Weather Maker’ experiences will be trialled and evaluated by small groups from October 2021.  Watch this space for details of how to take part in the trail.

Find out more about our Eden Universe project