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 reproduct
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Michigan State University