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Modern Biodiversity

Modern biodiversity results from the evolution of billions of organisms into a tremendous variety of habitats.

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Earth's Biggest Organism

Earth's Biggest Organism


Credit: J Zapell
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:FallPando02.jpg
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

What is Earth's biggest organism? Answering that question is surprisingly hard. Depending on how you ask it, the answer could be a tree, or a fungus. Or if you ask about the biggest animal, then the answer might be a whale.

Amazing But True!

  • People usually think dinosaurs were the biggest living organisms. But the largest known dinosaur weighed only about half the weight of a blue whale.
  • Credit: T. Bjornstad
    Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Image-Blue_Whale_and_Hector_Dolphine_Colored.jpg
    License: CC BY-NC 3.0

    Illustration of the size comparison between the largest whale (blue whale), the smallest whale (dolphin), and a human [Figure2]

  • Giant sequoias, which live in California, are the single largest trees.
  • Credit: Amy Selleck
    Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/29181763@N00/6156595095/
    License: CC BY-NC 3.0

    The size of a person compared to the base of a giant sequoia [Figure3]

  • All of the trees that make up the aspen grove (seen in the opening image) are genetically identical. They share one massive underground root system.

Show What You Know

With the links below, learn more about large organisms. Then answer the following questions.

  1. Why have whales evolved to be so much larger than the largest land animals? (Hint: think about water)
  2. Honey mushrooms are pretty small. Why might they be the largest organism on Earth?
  3. How do fungi help to create soil?
  4. How do scientists know that Pando is a single organism?
  5. What are the advantages of being a single large organism rather than a bunch of different trees?

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