China's endangered wild pandas may need new dinner reservations – and quickly – based on models that indicate climate change may kill off swaths of bamboo that pandas need to survive.
In this week's international journal Nature Climate Change, scientists from Michigan State University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences give comprehensive forecasts of how changing climate may affect the most common species of bamboo that carpet the forest floors of prime panda habitat in northwestern China. Even the most optimistic scenarios show that bamboo die-offs would effectively cause prime panda habitat to become inhospitable by the end of the 21st century.
The scientists studied possible scenarios of climate change in the Qinling Mountains in ShaanxiProvince. At the northern boundary of China's panda distributional range, the Qinling Mountains are home to around 275 wild pandas, about 17 percent of the remaining wild population. The Qinling pandas have been isolated due to the thousands-year history of human habitation around the mountain range. They vary genetically from other giant pandas -- some have a more brownish color -- and their geographic isolation makes it particularly valuable for conservation, but vulnerable to climate change.
"Understanding impacts of climate change is an important way for science to assist in making good decisions," said Jianguo "Jack" Liu, director of MSU's Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability (CSIS) and a study co-author. "Looking at the climate impact on the bamboo can help us prepare for the challenges that the panda will likely face in the future."
Bamboo is a vital part of forest ecosystems, being not only the sole menu item for giant pandas, but also providing essential food and shelter for other wildlife, including other endangered species like the ploughshare tortoise and purple-winged ground-dove. Bamboo can be a risky crop to stake survival on, with an unusual reproductive cycle. The species studied only flower and reproduce every 30 to 35 years, which limits the plants' ability to adapt to changing climate and can spell disaster for a food supply.
Mao-Ning Tuanmu, who recently finished his PhD studies at CSIS, and colleagues constructed unique models, using field data on bamboo locality, multiple climate projections and historic data of precipitation and temperature ranges and greenhouse gas emission scenarios to evaluate how three dominant bamboo species would fare in the Qinling Mountains of China.
Not many scientists to date have studied understory bamboo, Tuanmu said. But evidence found in fossil and pollen records does indicate that over time bamboo distribution has followed the benefits – and devastation – of climate change.
Pandas' fate will be at the hands of not only nature, but also humans. If, as the study's models predict, large swaths of bamboo become unavailable, human development prevents pandas from a clear, accessible path to the next meal source.
"The giant panda population also is threatened by other human disturbances, Tuanmu said. "Climate change is only one challenge for the giant pandas. But on the other hand, the giant panda is a special species. People put a lot of conservation resources in to them compared to other species. We want to provide data to guide that wisely."
The models can point the way for proactive planning to protect areas that have a better climatic chance of providing adequate food sources, or begin creating natural "bridges" to allow pandas an escape hatch from bamboo famine.
"We will need proactive actions to protect the current giant panda habitats," Tuanmu said. "We need time to look at areas that might become panda habitat in the future, and to think now about maintaining connectivity of areas of good panda habitat and habitat for other species. What will be needed is speed."
Michigan State University: http://www.newsroom.msu.edu
This press release was posted to serve as a topic for discussion. Please comment below. We try our best to only post press releases that are associated with peer reviewed scientific literature. Critical discussions of the research are appreciated. If you need help finding a link to the original article, please contact us on twitter or via e-mail.
Record drought is depriving honeybees of nectar and driving up the cost of honey
Thousands of Chinook salmon are struggling to survive in the Klamath River, where waters are running dangerously low and warm. Cold reservoir water is instead going to farms in the Central Valley.
A new study published today in PLOS One shows that golden orb weaver spiders living near heavily urbanized areas in Sydney, Australia tend to be bigger, better fed, and have more babies than those living in places less touched by human hands.
Long summer days in Alaska help cabbages, turnips and other vegetables grow to gargantuan sizes. These "giants" are celebrated at the annual state fair, which kicks off on Thursday.
The EPA wants to "clarify" the scope of its oversight of water under the Clean Water Act. Big farm groups like the American Farm Bureau Federation call this a power grab that would place every ditch and mud puddle under federal regulation, forcing farmers to get permits for small trenches around the farm.
For the first time, biologists measure the force applied by climbing snakes and find that they squeeze up to five times harder than necessary.
Long exposure gives an ethereal view of fires raging across Yosemite National Park, where drought and a hot summer have created unprecedented conditions
As the world grows hungrier for animal protein, insects could be the new way to feed livestock.Most farmers go to great lengths to keep insects at bay. For a growing cadre of livestock and fish producers though, bugs have never been so welcome.
Similar to money, humanity's ecological resources can either be increased or depleted for a certain amount of time
As orangutans are added to a list of the worlds 25 most endangered primates, we are discovering that these great apes are more like humans than we supposed