Published: Sun, October 21, 2018
Research | By Jody Lindsey

Humans are Slowly Killing the World's Biggest Organism Pando

Humans are Slowly Killing the World's Biggest Organism Pando

An ancient forest in Utah considered to be the largest single living thing in the world is dying, according to scientists. As old trees die off, then, this means the size of the colony is shrinking; and thus, Pando is dying, failing to replenish and self-reproduce over the last three or four decades. A team of researchers from the University of Utah has conducted the first comprehensive assessment of the clone Pando.

Scientists even say this 80,000-year-old forest has one connected root system. The 106-acre cluster consists of male aspen trees, which are known for supporting a very high level of biodiversity, and many animals depend on it for survival. Globally, aspens are being threatened by several man-made phenomena, including warming climates and fire suppression.

One of the world's largest aspen colonies is at risk because of mule deer and cattle.

In this new study, a group of researchers measured the health of various parts of the forest, such as by counting the number of living versus dead trees, counting the number of new stems and tracking the feces of animals that dropped in for a bite.

The solution, Rogers says, is in aligning plant and animal conservation efforts so they work together. The study also found increased human development, compounded with new campgrounds, roads, power lines, and cabins built within the grounds have caused the forest to shrink over the past 50 years.

Humans have impacted the natural balance of the region by killing off numerous predators that hunt mule deer.

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According to the US Department of Agriculture, insects like bark beetles and diseases like root rot are attacking some of the Pando trees as well.

Rogers and his colleague examined a 72-year series of aerial photographs that revealed the forest's decline, which showed that it has thinned over time as humans have expanded into it by cutting down trees.

Two years ago, Rogers and his partner Darren McAvoy set up fencing around parts of the colony in the hopes of protecting Pando from what they call browsers, but that endeavor proved to be only partially successful.

The deer have turned Pando into their personal buffet, and the trees simply haven't had an opportunity to keep up. Rogers told Science magazine that he wouldn't want to visit an iconic place like Pando just to look at fences.

"We need to help control the animals - both deer and cattle - and give Pando a break so that it can recover", Rogers said.

"The real problem", Rogers told Science, "is that there are too many mouths to feed in this area".

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