Pre­serv­ing habi­tats of gi­ant pan­das a pri­or­ity

Five moun­tain ranges in Sichuan ac­count for most of their liv­ing area world­wide

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - CHINA - By CHENG YINGQI chengy­ingqi@chi­nadaily.com.cn

The gi­ant panda, the blackand-while mam­mal that is per­haps the world’s most rec­og­niz­able sym­bol of con­ser­va­tion, is among the luck­ier of the en­dan­gered or vul­ner­a­ble species.

The past decade has seen ma­jor suc­cesses in cap­tive breed­ing of pan­das, while the fo­cus has shifted from sav­ing the species to pre­serv­ing their habi­tat.

Re­cent re­search car­ried out by Chi­nese sci­en­tists sug­gested that pan­das are an ar­easen­si­tive species, and cal­cu­lated than a min­i­mum area of 114.7 square kilo­me­ters is re­quired for their long-term per­sis­tence.

The re­search re­sults were made pub­lic on Thurs­day by Sci­en­tific Re­ports, an on­line open ac­cess sci­en­tific jour­nal pub­lished by the Na­ture Pub­lish­ing Group.

“Some an­i­mal species, for ex­am­ple some birds, are ar­easen­si­tive, which means they re­spond badly if the size of their habi­tat patch is too small,” said Yang Zhisong, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor spe­cial­iz­ing in life science at the China West Nor­mal Uni­ver­sity in Sichuan prov­ince, and an au­thor of the re­search.

The sci­en­tists stud­ied five moun­tain ranges in­hab­ited by gi­ant pan­das in Sichuan prov­ince, which ac­count for more than 78 per­cent of all panda habi­tat world­wide. The es­ti­mated num­ber of wild pan­das liv­ing in these ar­eas was pos­i­tively as­so­ci­ated with habi­tat patch area, which means pan­das are area-sen­si­tive.

“Pre­vi­ous re­search fo­cused mainly on habi­tat se­lec­tion, habi­tat assess­ment and the im­pact of hu­man ac­tiv­ity. How­ever, the ef­fect of habi­tat patch size re­ceived lit­tle at­ten­tion. Our study pro­vides em­pir­i­cal ev­i­dence show­ing the in­flu­ence of habi­tat size on the pres­ence of pan­das,” Yang said.

The pres­ence of wild pan­das is most con­tin­u­ous in the Ming­shan Moun­tains and Qionglais­han Moun­tains in Sichuan prov­ince, which are seg­mented into sev­eral patches by hu­man res­i­den­tial ar­eas, farm­land and roads. Four of these habi­tat patches are larger than the min­i­mum area re­quire­ment of 114.7 sq km.

The habi­tats in Dax­i­an­gling Moun­tains and Liang­shan Moun­tains are more frag­mented, but some patches are con­nected with oth­ers to re­lieve liv­ing pres­sure for pan­das.

The Xiaox­i­an­gling Moun- tains is the most highly seg­mented area in the five moun­tain ranges sur­veyed, with­out any habi­tat patches large enough to hold rel­a­tively vi­able pop­u­la­tions.

“In some re­gions, we can build cor­ri­dors be­tween ad­ja­cent patches to form a larger habi­tat area. In other cases, we will have to take en­gi­neer­ing mea­sures to en­large habi­tats,” said Dai Qiang from the Chengdu In­sti­tute of Bi­ol­ogy af­fil­i­ated to the Chi­nese Academy of Sci­ences, a co-au­thor of the re­search.

The most re­cent panda cen­sus, re­leased by the State Forestry Ad­min­is­tra­tion last year, showed that there were 1,864 wild pan­das liv­ing in 2.58 mil­lion hectares of pro­tected habi­tat in China, with the num­ber of cap­tive-bred pan­das in China to­tal­ing 375.

On Mon­day, the coun­try’s lead­ing group for over­all re­form passed a pro­gram for the con­struc­tion of a na­tional park sys­tem that will help in­crease the in­tegrity, con­nec­tiv­ity and co­or­di­na­tion of the habi­tats of en­dan­gered or vul­ner­a­ble species, in­clud­ing pan­das.

WANG JIANWEI / XIN­HUA

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