The giant panda is essentially the poster child of wildlife conservation: but is it a waste of time and money? A group of researchers from the National Science Foundation of China found that despite extensive national and international efforts to preserve the giant panda, this species is likely to lose the majority of its natural habitat within our lifetime.1 Recent studies have found that climate change in the most severe threat to the giant panda population. Sadly, much of this soon to be lost habitat is already within the conservation reserves, therefore making the loss inevitable.
It is well-known that the Earth’s climate is warming up but what is less widely understood is the ecological impact that this will have. The habitat of the giant panda is currently largely composed of wildlife reserve territory; however research suggests that the habitat will suffer significant losses of one-fifth its current area.1 Overall this may seem relatively low however 85% of all predicted habitat loss is predicted to occur in the Min Mountains of China which currently houses the highest concentration of pandas.1
Data show that the sustainable range for the giant panda will shift in a manner that will cause greater habitat fragmentation and disruption of population distributions. Habitat fragmentation, the separation of viable ecosystems into smaller pieces, is already a major issue in conservation biology. Most fragments are likely attributed to human interference that can be regulated, but how can we combat natural interference? Fragments are expected to decrease by as much as 30%. Some predictions even produce the possibility of more than one-tenth of the fragments will fall below the threshold size for sustaining a species by the turn of the century!1 This means that without significant human interventions, the giant pandas will no longer be able to bounce back from the threat of extinction in those areas.
The giant pandas are in grave danger because bamboo is sole component of their diet and unfortunately bamboo is unable to compensate for the changing climate. This is because its seeds are not easily dispersed like pollen or spore producing plants. The changing climate therefore puts a stress on the plants that affects their growth and desirability to the giant pandas. “If there’s no bamboo, then pandas can’t survive,” explains Jack Liu, an ecologist from Michigan State University.2 These climactic changes in giant panda habitats are significant because the absence of pandas or the bamboo species that they consume could have a significant effect on the ecosystem in the Min Mountains.
While there are many conservation efforts in the works for this lovable creature, it is unclear how long they can be sustained. Once the global climate reaches temperatures too high for bamboo to grow, should we call it quits? Or keep fighting to keep them alive in captive environments such as zoos by feeding them other types of foliage?
Because of these important, restricting factors of the giant pandas habitat and diet, scientists advocate the necessity to include factors such as the changing climate, and population dispersal behaviors in determining conservation procedures. This will allow for not only conserving the population as it exists today but also attempt to predict and improve conservation strategies for the future of all creatures because who knows what adorable animal could be the next to go?
Guozhen Shen, Stuart L. Pimm, Chaoyang Feng, Guofang Ren, Yanping Liu, Wenting Xu, Junqing Li, Xingfeng Si, Zongqiang Xie, Climate change challenges the current conservation strategy for the giant panda, Biological Conservation, Volume 190, October 2015, Pages 43-50, ISSN 0006-3207, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2015.05.004.
“Pandas Threatened by Climate Change : Discovery News.” Accessed September 13, 2015. http://news.discovery.com/earth/global-warming/climate-change-threatens-pandas-121111.htm.