Earth's Heaviest and Oldest Organism is Being Decimated by Humans

A study on the Pando aspen clone shows that the massive colony is deteriorating at an alarming rate due to harmful human mismanagement.
Kashyap Vyas

The man has been a wild predator for centuries, destroying organisms and species from the environment like there is no tomorrow. From global warming to the ozone layer depletion, the planet is facing a multitude of environmental concerns.


This is due to the direct effects of harmful human activities on the planet and the biophysical environment as we know it. The latest victim to the merciless pillage and destruction of humans is one of the oldest and largest living organisms on earth called the Pando.

Pando is an aspen grove that grows in the fall. It has a massive network of underground root system which also makes it the heaviest organism that is known to man.

This root system is estimated to be 80,000 years old, one of the oldest living organisms on Earth, and it is believed that the first single aspen seed sprouted just after the Ice Age in Western North America. The latest in the life of Pando is that it is dying, thanks to a multitude of human factors such as fire suppression, grazing, and drought.

What is causing this slow killing?

Scientists are citing human interference as the fundamental cause of this slow killing. However, there are many other external factors such as people allowing the deer and cattle population of the area to thrive, which resides in increased grazing and dying trees.

A study of Pando published in PLOS ONE has shared, “Aspen forests (chiefly Populus tremuloides, P. tremula) are among the most widespread tree systems in the world, yet their sustainability is threatened by human-induced impacts such as warming climates, development, fire suppression, and unchecked herbivory.”

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Pando Aspen Clone
Source: Intermountain Forest Service/Flickr

According to the study, it was discovered that prolonged drought and incessant fire suppression has led to the aspen grove slowly dying in the Fishlake National Forest of Utah, United States of America. This study consisted of scientists who investigated 65 distinct plots of three random management area of the forest.

They monitored and examined the matured trees that were alive and dead, the overall shrub cover, stem regeneration, and recruitment and the presence of deer feces. Thereafter, they organized a comparison between the condition of the forest today and that of 70 years ago.

Human decisions leading to this devastation

Human interference and inadequate management policies have led to a grave threat to the beautiful trees of the Pando aspen clone known as "the trembling giant." Researchers believe that the only solution to prolong the life of Pando is to see a massive shift in the management policy and adopt a more holistic approach to saving the oldest organism of the planet.

“This first comprehensive assessment of conditions at the famed Pando aspen clone reveals an ancient forest threatened by recent human decisions. A vital lesson derived from this study is that independently managing vegetation and wildlife may harm both,” wrote the authors. “While several human alterations to this forest have taken place in recent decades, it is the lack of simultaneous herbivore regulation that has caused this stand’s degeneration.”