The World’s Largest Life Form Is Breaking Up

A colossal aspen stand in Utah that is considered the world’s largest living thing appears to be fragmenting because of overgrazing by deer and cattle, according to researchers at Western Aspen Alliance, Department of Environment and Society, and Ecology Center, Utah State University.

What to know:

  • A massive stand of aspen trees in Utah named Pando covers 106 acres and consists of more than 40,000 individual trees that are genetically identical stems with a shared root system, and therefore the largest single organism in the world.

  • Pando’s health has become fragmented because of inconsistent efforts to protect it from mule deer and cattle who were eating too many young aspen shoots, preventing them from reaching maturity so that new growth cannot replace old trees.

  • Pando is showing signs of becoming into three distinct ecological zones rather than encouraging a single resilient forest because nearly half of the stand remains unprotected and is faltering. Only about 16% is properly fenced for protection and 35% is improperly fenced.

  • Although the fencing strategy is well-intentioned, the underlying problem of too many browsing deer and cattle on the landscape needs to be addressed.

  • Pando’s expansive size indicates that its origins probably date to the end of the last Ice Age and as a keystone species, it provides the foundation for an entire ecosystem, supporting hundreds of other species.

This is a summary of the article “Pando’s pulse: Vital signs signal need for course correction at world-renowned aspen forest” published by the Society of Conservation Biology on September 8. The full article can be found on

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