Sichuan earthquake caused significant damage to giant panda habitat

Jul 27, 2009

When the magnitude 8 Sichuan earthquake struck southern China in May 2008, it left more than 69,000 people dead and 4.3 million homeless. Now ecologists have added to these losses an assessment of the earthquake's impact on biodiversity: namely, habitat for some of the last existing wild giant pandas. In an article published today in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment e-view, researchers show that more than 23 percent of the pandas' habitat in the study area was destroyed, and fragmentation of the remaining habitat could hinder panda reproduction.

The Sichuan region is designated as one of 25 global hotspots for conservation, according to a 2000 study. Home to more than 12,000 species of plants and 1122 species of vertebrates, the area includes more than half of the for the Earth's wild giant panda population, says study lead author Weihua Xu of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing.

"We estimate that above 60 percent of the wild giant panda population was affected to some extent by the ," says Xu.

In an effort to develop conservation strategies for the panda's remaining habitat, Xu and his colleagues used satellite imagery, field observations and published research to determine the pandas' and fragmentation in the South Minshan region, which is adjacent to the earthquake's epicenter. Since forests are the main vegetation type used by the pandas, the authors compared forested areas in satellite images from September 2007, before the earthquake, to images after the earthquake and its , in July 2008.

The authors then combined results based on these with criteria that make forests suitable for pandas, including elevation, slope incline and presence of bamboo. Their analyses revealed that more than 354 square kilometers, or about 23 percent, of the pandas' habitat was converted to bare land. Of the remaining habitat, the researchers found that large habitat areas had been fragmented into smaller, disconnected patches, which Xu says can be just as harmful as habitat destruction.

"It is probable that habitat fragmentation has separated the giant panda population inhabiting this region, which could be as low as 35 individuals," says Xu. "This kind of isolation increases their risk of extinction in the wild, due in part to a higher likelihood of inbreeding."

Xu and his colleagues propose a plan to encourage pandas to move between patches using specially protected corridors. They also recommend areas to be protected outside of nature reserves, where the earthquake caused more than twice as much damage to panda habitat as inside reserves. Finally, they recommend that post-earthquake relocation of affected towns takes panda habitat into consideration.

"It is vital to the survival of this species that measures are taken to protect panda habitat outside nature reserves," Xu says. "Giant pandas in this region are more vulnerable than ever to human disturbance, including post-earthquake reconstruction and tourism. When coupled with these increasing human activities, natural disasters create unprecedented challenges for biodiversity conservation."

Source: Ecological Society of America

Explore further: Stanford researchers rethink 'natural' habitat for wildlife

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

To catch a panda

Dec 10, 2007

Michigan State University’s panda habitat research team has spent years collecting mountains of data aimed at understanding and saving giant pandas. Now a graduate student is working to catch crucial data that’s black, ...

China announces first panda from frozen sperm

Jul 24, 2009

(AP) -- China announced the first successful birth of a panda cub from artificial insemination using frozen sperm, giving a new option for the famously unfertile endangered species, officials said Friday.

U.S. and China study giant pandas

Nov 27, 2005

A team of Chinese and U.S. zoologists Sunday began a joint study of wild giant pandas in northwest China's Shaanxi Province.

Giant panda can survive

Aug 24, 2007

The giant panda is not at an “evolutionary dead end” and could have a long term viable future, according to new research involving scientists from Cardiff University.

Pandas mate with help at the National Zoo

Mar 24, 2008

U.S. veterinarians have artificially inseminated Mei Xiang, a female giant panda at the Smithsonian's National Zoo, after natural mating was unsuccessful.

Recommended for you

Plants with dormant seeds give rise to more species

Apr 18, 2014

Seeds that sprout as soon as they're planted may be good news for a garden. But wild plants need to be more careful. In the wild, a plant whose seeds sprouted at the first warm spell or rainy day would risk disaster. More ...

Scientists tether lionfish to Cayman reefs

Apr 18, 2014

Research done by U.S. scientists in the Cayman Islands suggests that native predators can be trained to gobble up invasive lionfish that colonize regional reefs and voraciously prey on juvenile marine creatures.

User comments : 0

More news stories

Researchers successfully clone adult human stem cells

(Phys.org) —An international team of researchers, led by Robert Lanza, of Advanced Cell Technology, has announced that they have performed the first successful cloning of adult human skin cells into stem ...

Biologists help solve fungi mysteries

(Phys.org) —A new genetic analysis revealing the previously unknown biodiversity and distribution of thousands of fungi in North America might also reveal a previously underappreciated contributor to climate ...

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.