World’s largest organism, believed to be thousands of years old, dies: study

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This iconic aspen clone has experienced persistent browsing over the decades.

Pando Aspen Stand, considered the world’s largest single organism, is on the brink of extinction, according to recent research by Utah State University. The group of genetically identical stems with immensely divided root systems is believed to be thousands of years old. It is located in South Central Utah and covers over 100 acres. Pando weighs 13 million pounds on a dry weight basis.

The “trembling giant” may have been around for thousands of years, but is now beginning to fall apart. Paul Rogers, director of the Western Aspen Alliance and adjunct professor of ecology at Utah University’s Quinney College of Natural Resources, completed the first thorough assessment of Pando five years ago, the study said.

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The evaluation showed how cattle and grazing deer damage the stand by preventing the formation of new aspen suckers and thereby giving the huge plant a shelf life. New aspen seedlings did not survive carnivorous browsers to replace dying elder trees. Slowly Pando suffers and dies.

The management built a fence around part of the stand in response to the danger of keeping out grazing animals and conducted some sort of experiment for protection. Professor Rogers visited Pando again to review the plan and check on the general well-being. Professor Rogers’ findings and research have been published in the log called Conservation Science and Practice.

Deer and cattle pose a danger to Pando by consuming new sprouts, which shortens the life of the structure because when older trees die, there are fewer young shrubs to replace them, the paper says.

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According to News week“These findings show that the genetically uniform Pando is ‘falling apart’ because of herbivore and fencing.”

“This iconic aspen clone has been continuously leafing through mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus Raf.) and cattle (Bos taurus L.) over the past few decades so that it dies slowly; a once-dense canopy thins while vegetative offspring (regenerating suckers) fail to mature,” quoted the professor in the study.

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The situation has only gotten worse in past attempts to stop Pando’s decline, such as when fences were built to prevent animals from eating the younger trees. This may have separated the organism into broken zones, News week further said.

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