The Pando, a grove of Aspen trees in Fishlake National Forest in Utah, got its name from a Latin word that means "I spread." It grew from a single aspen seed that sent up scores of shoots from its root system, forming a community of some 40,000 genetically identical individuals spread over 106 acres, with a collective weight of 6,500 tons.
According to the U.S. Forest Service, the sprawling Pando is the largest single organism on the planet, though some sources bestow that distinction upon a giant honey fungus in eastern Oregon's Blue Mountains, which covers a bigger surface area. And though estimates of the Pando's age vary widely, from thousands to as much as 1 million years, there's a good possibility that it may be the oldest organism as well.
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But regardless of whether it qualifies for the Guinness Book of World Records, in recent years the Pando has been in trouble.
As New Scientist reports, many of its oldest trees are reaching the end of their natural lifespan, and hungry animals such as deer and elk have been eating the young stems that would replace them.
"It's falling apart on our watch," Paul Rogers, a Utah State University ecologist who directs the Western Aspen Alliance, a partnership between the university and the federal government, told the science magazine. "The old trees are dying, and the young ones are being eaten."
The upside is that there's a possibility of saving the Pando by putting the entire grove inside a fence and taking other steps to help it regenerate.
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With the help of federal funding, a 67-acre section of the Pando already has been fenced off to prevent new tree shoots and saplings from being consumed. Additionally, the young aspens in that area have been assisted through management measures such as clearing vegetation, to allow more sunlight and stimulate regeneration.
According to New Scientist, Rogers and colleagues found that over a single three-year period, the fenced-in part of the Pando contained eight times as many aspen stems as an unfenced area.
"It was a neat surprise that we can get pretty good results with fencing alone," Rogers told the magazine.
For more information, here's the U.S. Forest Service video about the Pando, and an in-depth Atlas Obscura article.
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