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Quaking in their Roots: The Decline of the Quaking Aspen
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In recent years, populations of quaking aspen have been in decline in the Western United States. Stands of aspen are now mixed with conifer trees. Each year, fewer aspen-dominated stands exist in Utah and other parts of the Western United States. The scientists in this study wanted to know more about the decline of quaking aspen. They also wanted to know what should be done about reversing aspen decline.
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Sometimes, a scientific question cannot be answered by direct observation, such as by an experiment or by simply observing what is going on. In these cases, scientists collect information from a variety of sources, then put the pieces together as if they were gathering and evaluating clues to a mystery. In this study, the scientists wanted to know why populations of quaking aspens are declining in the Western United States. Because it would take years to watch the growth and development of an aspen stand, the scientists tried to find clues from other sources to help them understand the aspen's decline.
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Pando'" which means 'I spread' in Latin'"is the perfect name for a stand of quaking aspen, nominated a few years ago as Earth's most massive living individual. The title still stands, as far as scientists have determined. In the Wasatch Mountains of Utah (on the Fishlake National Forest '" see Figure 1), Pando weighs about 13 million pounds. He has upwards of 47,000 stems. That's 47,000 of what you and I might mistakenly perceive as separate aspen trees. Pando is a male aspen. Unlike several other tree species, individual aspen are either male or female. Quaking aspens like Pando are able to cover so much ground by an asexual reproductive process'"known as suckering'"involving tree roots. New stems rise out of the ground from the aspen's network of horizontally spreading roots. On the surface, these appear to be separate trees, but they are really part of one individual! (This information is from Earth and Sky, Monday, December 9, 1996. Visit their web site at www.earthsky.com.)
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