Pandas Less Picky About Habitat Than Previously Believed

Chuck Bednar for – Your Universe Online
Pandas may not be as inflexible and set-in-their-ways when it comes to habitat as previously believed, according to new research published in the latest edition of Ursus, the journal of the International Association for Bear Research and Management.
While three decades worth of scientific literature have suggested that pandas are delicate and picky when it comes to things such as where they live, Michigan State University research associate Vanessa Hull and her colleagues report that the endangered creature may be more resilient and flexible than experts previously believed.
Hull, a postdoctoral research associate at MSU’s Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability (CSIS), spent three years studying giant pandas at the Wolong Nature Reserve in China. When not occupied with her research, she analyzed 30 years worth of studies suggesting that the creatures were inflexible when it comes to habitat.
Those long-standing beliefs about the pickiness of pandas have become generally accepted, and have even helped guide policy governing the estimated 1,600 remaining endangered wild pandas believed to be living in China. However, Hull’s analysis of aggregate data indicates that the creatures are actually more flexible than we give them credit for.
“It has been thought pandas demanded a forest with fairly gentle slope (easier to mosey around in while seeking bamboo) at a certain elevation in original, old forest, an abundance of bamboo, and plenty of distance from people,” the university explained in a statement.
However, Hull said that those recommendations are based on minimal research due to the elusive nature of the creatures.
“Pandas are difficult to observe and follow in the wild, we’re always 10 steps behind them,” she explained. “We don’t know why they’re there – or where they were before and after. There’s a lot of guesswork.”
She and her colleagues conducted an analysis of the various scientific papers, separating studies that focused on panda habitat from those that examined the types of choices pandas made when multiple types of living areas were available to them. They found that pandas appear to be willing to live in secondary forests (those that have been logged and have regrown) and are even less selective about slope depending on various factors.
Pandas, the study authors found, are willing to climb depending upon which types of bamboo are growing in a certain area, and are less picky about elevation depending upon the amount of sunshine that a particular area receives. Their findings indicate that forests once cut clean by timber harvesting can eventually become acceptable panda habitat, a finding that the Hull’s team said validates the current ban on forest harvesting.
“They also found that there is a complex relationship between trees and bamboo. Pandas choose different forest types as places to spend their time, as long as bamboo is available,” the university noted. “Hull said consensus would be helpful for future panda habitat research, since the future guarantees change.”
“It’s exciting to see the flexibility pandas have, or at least see that pandas are choosing areas I didn’t think could support them,” she added. “It gives you hope. They’ve survived throughout many challenges over so many millions of years, it would be sad to think humans came along and threw it all away. This also suggests we should stay on board and try to make things better for them.”
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