One of the World's Biggest Organisms Is in Trouble

Christopher Davidson
October 20, 2018

Here, regionally, and indeed internationally, aspen forests support great biodiversity.

Also called the Trembling Giant and the One Tree Forest, the researchers say Pando has been around for thousands of years, covers about 43 hectares and weighs about 5.9 million kilograms. Free to roam Pando's grounds, deer and cattle graze the forest, steadily degrading the colony. The Pando forest in the National Park of Fishlake located in the USA state of Utah - the largest colony in the world, it consists of 47,000 aspens and occupies almost half a square kilometer.

The aspens are a hardy organism, Rogers says, and with the right actions the Pando could flourish once again. And without young trees to replace old individuals, the forest might one day disappear entirely. During its analysis, the team couldn't find any sapling-size trees that didn't have the tops eaten off.

Apex predators such as bears, wolves and mountain lions once kept the mule deer's population in check, but those are barely around any more because of hunting.

"Humans decide on how many animals are there and how they move around", Rogers told Earther. Rogers blames humans rather than animals, saying that state and federal officials could stop it. "This altered pattern roughly coincides with our 72-year photo sequence, when increases in road traffic, recreational home development, and campground use have flourished". "Because of human presence, deer are more safe, which causes a localised overabundance of the animals". For more than 80,000 years, long before any Homo sapiens laid foot on Utah, the tree has perpetuated its genetic material - but now, it is in danger. And they looked at the amount of scat: "We count shit to see what animals are there and what their relative visitation rates are", Rogers said.

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The forest has gradually thinned as humans expanded into it, cutting down areas that have never properly recovered. Such trees may help during times of drought, to each other, but generally speaking, each tree was individually capable of.

Instead, Rogers said he would push to cull the population of deer around Pando.

While this study tells an important story, there's more work to be done. There are open questions about how climate change might further impact the Pando. More research needs to be done using cameras or Global Positioning System collars so that animals interacting with Pando can be tracked.

They are nicknamed "quaking aspens", a result of flattened leaves trembling in windy conditions to lessen the chances of branches breaking, and can also grow over wide areas from a single seed by having rhizomatic roots. There's still so much to learn about this forest, but the trees need to be alive in order for those discoveries to happen.

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