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Thread: The largest living thing on Earth is a humongous fungus

  1. #1

    The largest living thing on Earth is a humongous fungus

    Forget blue whales and giant redwood trees. The biggest living organism is over 2 miles across, and you'll hardly ever see it

    By Nic Fleming, 19 November 2014

    Italian chef Antonio Carluccio says it is delicious with spaghetti and red chilli. But to gardeners it is a menace that threatens their hedges, roses and rhododendrons.

    The parasitic and apparently tasty honey fungus not only divides opinions; it is also widely seen as the largest living organism on Earth.

    More precisely, a specific honey fungus measuring 2.4 miles (3.8 km) across in the Blue Mountains in Oregon is thought to be the largest living organism on Earth.

    Several species of fungi belong to the Armillaria genus, which is popularly known as honey fungus. They colonise and kill a variety of trees and woody plants.

    The large clumps of yellow-brown mushrooms that appear above ground are the fruiting bodies of much larger organisms. They consist mainly of black bootlace-like rhizomorphs that spread out below surface in search of new hosts, and underground networks of tubular filaments called mycelia.

    However, it is only in recent years that scientists have discovered quite how large these can get.

    Tree killers

    In 1998 a team from the US Forest Service set out to investigate the cause of large tree die-offs in the Malheur National Forest in east Oregon.

    They identified affected areas in aerial photographs and collected root samples from 112 dead and dying trees, mostly firs. Tests showed all but four of the trees had been infected with the honey fungus Armillaria solidipes (previously known as Armillaria ostoyae).

    When mycelia from genetically identical A. solidipes meet, they can fuse to form one individual. The researchers harnessed this ability, growing fungi samples in pairs in petri dishes. By observing which ones fused and which ones rejected each other, they found that 61 of the trees had been struck down by the same clonal colony individuals with identical genetic make-up that all originated from one organism.

    The most widely-spaced were 2.4 miles (3.8 km) apart. The team calculated that the A. solidipes covered an area of 3.7 sq miles (9.6 sq km), and was somewhere between 1,900 and 8,650 years old.

    At the time, the largest known organism was a fungus of the same species discovered in 1992 in south-west Washington, which stretches over 2.5 sq miles (6.5 sq km).

    Biologists have long debated what constitutes an individual organism. The record-breaking A. solidipes clonal colony passes the test based on a definition of being made up of genetically identical cells that can communicate, and that have a common purpose or can at least coordinate themselves.

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  3. #2
    I'm curious if you posted on news.ycombinator ?

  4. #3
    Aspen are pretty darned big too.

    Utah’s Pando aspen grove is the most massive living thing known on Earth. It may die soon.

    Fishlake National Forest • The leaves of the Pando aspen grove glow in the low sunshine of an October afternoon. The straight, vertical trunks repeat into the distance like a house of mirrors, and under a backlit canopy of foliage, Pando feels at once infinite and enclosed.

    For 106 acres on the southwest bank of Fish Lake in Sevier County, a single root system unites this forest. Pando is the biggest aspen “clone” ever identified, the single most massive living organism known on Earth. Though little known in Utah, Pando has gained fame as a tourist destination and as a symbol of sustainability and interconnectedness. It is being researched, photographed, talked about. It has inspired poetry, sermons, even comedy sketches.
    Scientists say it could be on the brink of collapse.

    “It’s dying from within,” says Paul Rogers, an ecology professor at Utah State University and director of the Western Aspen Alliance. “We’re sort of in an emergency situation in terms of the next five to 10 years.”

    Rogers and local land managers know the reason for Pando’s struggle: Animals are eating it faster than it can regenerate. They also say there are ways to save Pando quickly — a welcome distinction from other aspen clones in the Mountain West, which have declined under drought and high temperatures.

    But action must be swift, aspen advocates warn. In less than a decade, the mighty Pando — Latin for “I spread” — may deteriorate beyond recovery, Rogers says.

    “This clone has been around for hundreds, likely thousands of years,” Rogers says. “Something’s gone off in the last 30 years or so. If it’s been around that long and falls apart on our watch, it’s kind of a harbinger of how we interact with the Earth in general.”
    The main culprit is mule deer. About 50 live in and near Pando and are ravenous by the time new shoots appear in June, says Jim Lamb, a biologist with the state Division of Wildlife Resources.

    “Consider if a deer wants to eat three to four pounds of food a day, what [happens to] an 18-inch-tall sapling,” Lamb says.

    Most, if not all, of the new growth is eaten, Rogers says. In fall, an annual cattle drive of about 1,000 head moves through the eastern part of the grove. In winter, a few elk show up to browse.

    The clone’s mature and growing trees put energy into their massive, shared root system to form new sprouts. As old trees die and are not replaced, the canopy becomes more sparse, and the entire clone becomes less able to reproduce and thrive.

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  5. #4

    This was actually interesting. And full disclosure, while I'm talking about the fungus being all smart ass like I know $#@! she doesn't, she was steadily making her case for the trees. Then that damn video starts talking about....yep...those damn trees.
    "Self conquest is the greatest of all victories." - Plato

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