Pando is the name of a 40-hectare (100-acre) aspen forest in central Utah whose 47,000 stems share a single genome. It’s thought to be the largest and one of the oldest organisms on Earth.In discovering that Pando might be dying, ecologist Paul C. Rogers came to realize that the problems troubling the famous giant were a microcosm of the problems troubling aspen forests across the Northern Hemisphere, and with them the highly biodiverse set of organisms they support.That sparked a collaboration among aspen researchers from eight countries, who propose a conservation strategy they’re calling ‘mega-conservation.’ It aims to protect common ecosystems distinguished by a species that, like aspen, supports uncommon levels of biodiversity while facing common threats.Mongabay spoke with Rogers about Pando, mega-conservation, and the wisdom of thinking like an aspen forest. With its groves of pockmarked white bark and trembling green medallion leaves, Pando looks like any other aspen forest. But the approximately 47,000 stems that form its giant body share a single genome. Spanning more than 40 hectares (100 acres) in central Utah and weighing at least 5,800 tons, the famous aspen clone is thought to be the largest and one of the oldest organisms on Earth. For the past 10 years, Paul C. Rogers, director of the Western Aspen Alliance and adjunct associate professor of ecology at Utah State University, has studied Pando —Latin for “I spread” — for insights into the ecology of quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides). Previously, Rogers spent nearly two decades studying North American aspen forests and lichens as an ecologist with the U.S. Forest Service. In 2018, Rogers co-authored a study that found Pando might be dying, and it might be people’s fault, at least indirectly. In addition to stresses from fire suppression and drought extended by climate change, cattle and a surplus of mule-deer linked to the eradication of wolves were munching on new aspen stems before they had a chance to grow. Over time, this left Pando without any new growth, just aging stems. In his conversation with Mongabay, Rogers compared the forest to a “town of only old people.” Headlines about the decline of Pando abounded. But Rogers saw a bigger story behind Pando’s demise: the problems troubling the famous giant were a microcosm of the problems troubling aspen forests across the Northern Hemisphere, and with them the disproportionally diverse set of plants, fungi and animals dependent on their unique ecology. In March, Rogers, along with a first-ever consortium of aspen researchers from around the world, published a study taking a global view of aspen forests. Inspired by the interconnected qualities of Populus spp., the consortium put forward a conservation strategy they’re calling “mega-conservation.” The strategy focuses on protecting common ecosystems distinguished by a species that, like aspen, supports uncommon levels of biodiversity while facing common threats. The idea is that focusing limited resources on those ecosystems could be a more efficient way to protect biodiversity than focusing only on the rarest, most charismatic species. Mongabay spoke with Rogers about Pando, mega-conservation, and the wisdom of thinking like an aspen forest. The interview has been condensed and edited for length and clarity.