Pando, one of the oldest and largest organisms

Pando, a large grove of aspen trees sharing a single root system, is one of the largest living organisms in the world. We take a look at how researchers are teaming up with students to learn more about this ancient and endangered tree colony.

TRANSCRIPT

DID YOU KNOW THAT ONE OF THE OLDEST AND LARGEST SINGLE ORGANISMS ON EARTH RESIDES IN SOUTHERN UTAH?

KNOWN AS PANDO, THIS LARGE GROVE OF ASPEN TREES SHARES A SINGLE ROOT SYSTEM, MAKING IT ONE OF THE LARGEST LIVING ORGANISMS IN THE WORLD.

HERE'S A LOOK AT HOW RESEARCHERS ARE TEAMING UP WITH STUDENTS TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THIS ANCIENT AND ENDANGERED TREE COLONY.

PANDO IS A GIANT ASPEN CLONE -- AND WHAT I MEAN BY 'CLONE' IS THAT ALL OF THE STEMS THAT YOU SEE AROUND YOU, ALL THE LARGE STEMS AND SMALL STEMS, ARE THE SAME EXACT GENETIC TYPE BECAUSE THEY'RE CONNECTED BY A ROOT SYSTEM UNDERGROUND.

AND SO THE TREES SPROUT UP FROM THE ROOTS INSTEAD OF FROM SEEDS.

AND THE TERM PANDO IS LATIN FOR 'I SPREAD,' AND THIS IS A GIANT CLONE, THOUGHT TO BE THE LARGEST LIVING THING IN THE WORLD.

AND IT'S ABOUT 106 ACRES IN SIZE.

PANDO IS REALLY LIKE A COMMUNITY, BECAUSE IF ONE ASPECT OF IT IS AFFECTED -- IF PANDO DIES OFF, THEN THE REST OF THE SPECIES IN THE AREA WILL ALSO BE AFFECTED.

IT'S REALLY IMPORTANT THAT WE KEEP IT SAFE SO THAT IF THE TREES DIE OFF, WE DON'T HAVE THE DEER DYING OFF, AS WELL, OR, IF THE DEER DIE OFF, WE DON'T HAVE AN OVERGROWTH OF TREES.

AND SO IT'S REALLY IMPORTANT TO LOOK AT WHAT'S BEING AFFECTED AND HOW IT'S CONNECTED.

THE STUDENTS HERE ARE HELPING ME MEASURE THE CONDITION OF THE CLONE, AND SO HOW MANY LIVE TREES AND DEAD TREES AND PARTICULARLY HOW MANY YOUNG TREES ARE REPRODUCING.

THIS IS THE MISSING ELEMENT WE HAVE HERE AT THE PANDO CLONE.

SO, WE HAVE A LOT OF VERY OLD TREES, IN HUMAN TERMS, WE'D THINK OF AS SENIOR CITIZENS, BUT IF WE WANT THIS CLONE TO SURVIVE -- AND IT'S WORLD-RENOWNED AT THIS POINT -- WE NEED TO HAVE A DIVERSITY OF AGE CLASSES -- YOUNG ONES, TEENAGERS, MIDDLE-AGED ONES.

SO THAT WHEN THE OLDER ONES DIE, AS MANY OF THEM, AS YOU CAN SEE AROUND YOU, ARE RIGHT NOW, WE HAVE SORT OF THE NEXT GENERATION TO FILL IN.

THERE'S A WHOLE MOVEMENT, IN SCIENCE IN GENERAL, HAVING WHAT'S CALLED CITIZEN SCIENCE OR CITIZEN SCIENTISTS PARTICIPATE IN THINGS.

AND THIS IS A WAY FOR PEOPLE WHO ARE PROFESSIONAL SCIENTISTS, LIKE MYSELF, TO REACH OUT TO THE COMMUNITY AND GET THEM TO UNDERSTAND ISSUES, TO HAVE THEM PHYSICALLY PARTICIPATE IN TAKING MEASUREMENTS AND BRINGING DATA HOME.

AND, IN THIS WAY, THEY'RE INVESTED IN THE RESOURCES OR ISSUES THAT THEY'RE INTERESTED.

IN THE CASE OF THE STUDENTS HERE, FROM THE INTERNATIONAL BACCALAUREATE PROGRAM FROM OGDEN HIGH SCHOOL, THEY'RE HELPING US TO TAKE PHYSICAL MEASUREMENTS ON THE GROUND TO CHARACTERIZE THE CONDITION OF THIS PANDO CLONE AND THIS PART OF THE CLONE.

THIS ADDS TO, NOW, A BODY OF KNOWLEDGE IN WHICH WE'VE MANIPULATED THE CLONE IN DIFFERENT PLACES TO TRY TO GET IT TO RECOVER, TO SAVE IT.

BOTH OF MY PARENTS HAVE ALWAYS LIKED TO SPEND A LOT OF TIME OUTSIDE AND IN THE MOUNTAINS, AND SO FROM, YOU KNOW, BEFORE I WAS EVEN BORN AND AS A REALLY, REALLY SMALL BABY, THEY WERE ALWAYS TAKING ME OUT HIKING AND CAMPING AND SKIING.

AND SO I'VE ALWAYS BEEN ABLE TO SPEND A LOT OF TIME OUTSIDE, AND IT'S MADE ME REALLY APPRECIATE ALL THE THINGS THAT WE HAVE PROTECTED.

AND, SO, SORT OF AS A PERSON THAT APPRECIATES IT, I FEEL THE RESPONSIBILITY, IN A WAY, TO CONTINUE TO PROTECT IT, ESPECIALLY IN AREAS LIKE THIS, WHERE WE HAVE THINGS THAT ARE SO UNIQUE AND SO INCREDIBLE TO LOOK AT.

AND GIVEN THE OPPORTUNITY TO SEE HOW INCREDIBLE IT IS, IT GIVES ME THE RESPONSIBILITY TO WANT TO KEEP GOING AND RESEARCHING WAYS TO PROTECT IT AND WAYS TO KEEP IT ALIVE.

I DID THIS THING CALLED SCIENCE IN THE PARKS, AND IT'S ALL ABOUT GETTING INNER-CITY KIDS TO, LIKE, HELP THEM AND SHOW THEM HOW COOL SCIENCE IS.

AND, SO, WHEN YOU SAY 'CITIZEN SCIENCE,' I KIND OF THINK THAT ANYONE CAN BE INVOLVED WITH SCIENCE AND REALLY GETTING PEOPLE INTERESTED IN PROTECTING THE BEAUTIFUL THINGS THAT WE HAVE AROUND US.

SO, THAT'S WHY SCIENCE IS JUST SO COOL.

I THINK IF PEOPLE CAN COME TO A PLACE NOT ONLY LIKE PANDO, BUT TO A PLACE, YOU KNOW, IN NORTHERN UTAH OR SOUTHERN UTAH OR ANYWHERE ACROSS THE U.S., ACROSS THE WORLD, TO BE ABLE TO HAVE CITIZENS WHO AREN'T EVEN TRAINED IN THE SCIENTIFIC FIELD TO COME OUT AND UNDERSTAND HOW INCREDIBLE IT IS THAT THEY'RE SURROUNDED BY THIS AND KNOW THAT THAT'S SOMETHING THAT NEEDS TO BE PROTECTED AND THAT THEY CAN PROTECT IT.

AND THEN THAT'S SORT OF SHARING OF INFORMATION CAN CREATE A LARGER POPULATION OF PEOPLE WHO UNDERSTAND THE IMPORTANCE OF THIS AND THE IMPORTANCE OF WHAT THEY NEED TO DO AND WHAT THEY CAN DO.