November 26, 2021
We are all familiar with Earth’s largest living animals. The African elephant is the largest living land mammal, and the blue whale is the largest animal in the sea, but both of these animals are dwarfed by Earth’s largest living organism by weight, “Pando”.
Pando is not an animal, but rather a stand of trees; specifically a stand of genetically identical quaking aspen clones. This stand of trees is growing in Utah, and while it looks like there is an entire forest of 47,000 individual plants, they are technically all one tree. In total there are 106-acres of Pando, all connected by a root network that sends up genetically identical clone stems as it grows. Scientists estimate that this extraordinary biological phenomenon weighs in at 6,000 metric tons, and has been growing over a period of around 14,000 years! In and around Pando is an entire ecosystem which is reliant on the food and shelter provided by the aspen. Unfortunately, although Pando is protected by the US National Forest Service, this mega-organism is at risk.
The ecosystem is out of balance due to the loss of predators like cougars and wolves. These apex predators historically helped keep the populations of herbivores like elk and deer in check. Without their natural predators, the herbivores are damaging Pando by over-browsing its new shoots as they arise, meaning there are whole sections of Pando where there is now no new growth occurring. This is a clear example of why maintaining the natural balance in ecosystems is so important, as an unbalanced ecosystem can be damaging to the plants and animals living within it.
It is worth remembering however, that Pando has survived for thousands of years, and has faced other periods of climate change, disease and overgrazing, and yet it still survives. Scientists are keen to learn more about this remarkable organism, including any secrets to it’s incredible resilience. Learning more about unusual organisms like Pando helps us to learn more about life on Earth, and helps to highlight the importance of protecting unusual ecosystems which still hold so many as yet undiscovered secrets. These secrets could help us better protect these, and other ecosystems in the face of the ongoing climate crisis.
Source: Science Alert
Read more: https://www.sciencealert.com/the-world-s-largest-organism-is-slowly-being-eaten-scientist-says