Earth's largest millennial organism is slowly being eaten and may go extinct - scientists

Dmitry IvancheskulLife
Overgrazing by deer and elk threatens Pando the most

The largest thousand-year-old organism on Earth, weighing about 6,000 tons, is on the verge of extinction. We are talking about "Pando" - it is more than 42 hectares of aspen poplar trees, which ensure the existence of an entire ecosystem of 68 species of plants and many animals.

"Pando" (Latin for "I spread") is located in Utah in the United States. Although from the outside it appears to be just a forest of many trees, it is actually a giant organism with a single root system from which 47,000 genetically identical stems grow. The Conversation tells us what the threat to the organism is.

Scientists estimate that Pando may be around 14,000 years old, even though most of its stems only live about 130 years. It is protected by the U.S. National Forest Service and is not threatened by logging, but it is in danger of extinction due to several other factors.

The biggest problem for the organism has been overgrazing by deer and elk that eat the young shoots. The deer population used to be regulated by wolves and cougars, but the loss of predators has resulted in much larger herds.

In addition, the Pando serves as a place of protection for deer and elk, since hunting is forbidden in this forest.

"Pando" manages to stay alive because when old trees die or fall, they open a "passageway" for sunlight to reach the forest floor. This stimulates the growth of new stems. But now the animals are eating the tops of the newly grown stems and causing them to die. Therefore, there is almost no new growth in much of the Pando area.

The only exception is one area that was fenced in a few decades ago to enclose dying trees. The fence prevents elk and deer from entering this area, so that is where new stems have been successfully regenerating.

''Utah's Pando is the largest organism on Earth

In addition, Pando is also threatened by three diseases that affect older stems: bark sooty cancer, leaf spotting, and cone fungal disease. Although these diseases have evolved and thrived in aspen trees for thousands of years, scientists do not know what their long-term impact on the ecosystem might be, given the lack of growth of new stems.

Another threat to Pando is climate change. This organism originated on Earth at the end of the last ice age and has been dealing with a mostly stable climate ever since. "Pando" comes from the Alpine region, so it is not used to high temperatures or drought.

Scientists have not studied Pando specifically, but they know that aspen poplars are suffering because of climate change, which has led to a reduced water supply and warmer weather earlier in the year. Therefore, the trees have difficulty forming new leaves.

But according to the authors of the article, given that Pando has been around for thousands of years, there is hope that it will continue to try to adapt to rapidly changing climatic conditions. It has already experienced rapid environmental changes in the past, especially when European settlers began to settle the state in the nineteenth century or after the growth of recreational activity in the twentieth century. It has already faced disease, wildfires, and grazing and remains the largest scientifically documented organism in the world.

Earlier OBOZREVATEL also told about the scientists who offer to fight global warming with the help of space catapults.

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