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Pando - The World's Heaviest Living Organism

All life is an abominable miracle in the face of a cold, lifeless universe. On almost any scale imaginable, life has been found to thrive. The upper limits of life are assumed to be the size of the blue whale. If you ask anyone, with a decent education, what the biggest organism in the world is, they would tell you about the Blue Whale. They would be wrong.

In the Fishlake National Forest in Utah, USA, there lurks a single organism that dwarfs any mammal or reptile in history. Pando is a grove of quaking aspen trees that are all genetically identical. Researchers theorize that all the visible trees sprout up from a singular root system. Thus, they are all the same tree.

AI representation of Pando
We are Pando, and we are one

Quaking Aspens - Taking the Fun out of Reproduction

General wisdom holds that reproduction requires two organisms. There are, however, some critters capable of reproducing asexually. Implying that they essentially clone themselves to create new life. The process is much more complex than stated above, but I'm not about to turn this into a biology lesson.

Some sharks, like the Hammerhead and Blacktip, have been known to reproduce asexually in captivity. Genetic testing reveals that the offspring is identical to their mothers.

Most trees rely on sexual reproduction to spread. Flowers are fertilized, and seeds fall to form new plants. The quaking aspen, while capable of regular sexual reproduction, most often spreads through a unique asexual process.

One massive lateral root system spreads far and wide. From this single root system, new trees sprout up like branches on a massive tree. That is exactly what happened in Fishlake Forest.

I Spread

Pando is a forest consisting of only one organism. Over 47,000 trees form part of this single male quaking aspen. It stretches over a massive 43.6 hectares (436 square meters) and is estimated to weigh in at 6,000 tonnes (6 million kilograms).

The name, Pando, is Latin, and translates to I Spread. This vegetative titan has been growing for over 80,000 years, making it one of the oldest living organisms in the world.

As Pando spreads, the older 'trees' wither and die, and younger saplings shoot up to replace them. That is the way it has been for longer than our current civilization has been going. Humanity was still running the plains with stone tools when Pando shot its first root.

Unfortunately, it seems the ancient organism is dying.

The End of Pando

According to Paul Rogers, a professor and ecologist at Utah State University, Pando is in danger. After studying the grove, he found some worrying signs for the future of Pando.

Professor Rogers saw evidence of the mature trees dying from drought, and pestilence. Both of which are normal for the ancient organism. He found little to no evidence of juvenile sprouts, though.

These young trees naturally replace the older ones, but for some reason they just aren't surviving to maturity. Without this key step in the lifecycle of Pando, the organism is at risk of a sudden withering, which could mean the end of the ancient plant.

Elk and deer are to blame, says professor Rogers. Overgrazing of the juvenile shoots lead to the premature death of the youngers stems. One has to wonder if the lack of predators has created an overpopulation of prey animals.

Pando is the epitome of the thought that all life is connected. This forest may be dying due to a key link in nature's lifecycle being eliminated by human intervention.

Could Pando be saved by reintroducing predators into the environment, as was the case in Yellowstone National Park?



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