This is “the Trembling Giant,” or Pando, from the Latin word for “I spread.” A single clone, and genetically male, he is the most massive organism on Earth. He is a forest of one: a grove of some 47,000 quivering aspen trees connected by a single root system, and all with the same DNA.
Threatened by hungry animals and human encroachment, Pando is fighting a losing battle, suggests a study published in ‘PLOS ONE’.
The study revealed that this unrealised natural treasure and keystone species — with hundreds of dependents — is shrinking. And without more careful management of the forest, and the mule deer and cattle that forage within him, the Trembling Giant will continue to dwindle.
How Pando got so big is a mystery. Perhaps it lived among other clones and became dominant over time.They reproduce asexually. Instead of growing from seeds, sprouts emerge directly from roots within the tree’s underground web.
But Pando’s demographics are out of balance. Ecologists Paul Rogers and Darren McAvoyfound that older trees were dying, but young ones weren’t replacing them. Perhaps they are being eaten or trampled. More fencing, culling of deer, and experimentation with the forest’s natural ecology ultimately might save Pando, Rogers said.
“If we can save this, there are lessons that may help us save thousands of species,” Rogers said.