is the co-author of a report published in the April issue
of the journal Conservation Biology that highlights the urgent
need to expand protected habitat in China's Qinling mountains.
The region is home to around 20 percent of China's wild giant
pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca).
was conducted by scientists with WWF-US, The World Wide Fund
for Nature-China in Beijing, and the Giant Panda Conservation
and Research Center located at Peking University in Beijing.
220 pandas live in the Qinling (pronounced chin-ling) Mountains,
situated in China's central Shaanxi province. Once found across
China, Myanmar, and Vietnam, fewer than 1,000 pandas are now
thought to remain in just six mountain ranges in southwest
the Qinling Mountains, habitat fragmentation is the pressing
threat. Some protected habitat patches are so divided by settlements,
roads, and agricultural land that pandas find it impossible
to move between reserves.
are slowly getting "nibbled up" by development,
a broken cookie," he said. "Though there are several
large protected chunks of land, there are also lots of small
and isolated crumbs of habitat around the edges."
studies suggest that isolated populations consisting of 30
pandas or less have at least a 25 percent chance of extinction
in the next 100 years when confined to such habitat crumbs.
populations, like land-bound species on islands, have no way
to escape disaster, said Loucks. Populations ravaged by forest
fires, famines, or other catastrophes have nowhere else to
go. In contrast, pandas living in much larger forest reserves
can move to other habitable areas.
are sections of the remaining forest where giant pandas have
been extirpated," said John Seidensticker, a conservation
scientist at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park in Washington
D.C. "This shows the danger posed to pandas of continual
fragmentation of the remaining habitat in this mountain system."
a combination of satellite images and other remote sensing
methods, conventional maps, and data collected on the ground,
Loucks and colleagues created maps showing the remaining suitable
panda habitat in the Qinling Mountains. Pandas are fussy eaters,
primarily feeding on just two species of bamboo. The researchers
found that the current network of nature reserves covers less
than 50 percent of the remaining bamboo-harboring woodland.
plenty of bamboo-rich habitat free of pandas," said Loucks.
"Expanding reserves and linking up protected habitat
patches would encourage pandas to take advantage of these
calls for the creation of three new reserves and several protected
"corridors" of habitat to link up isolated patches.
lot was known about pandas when the reserves were first created,
said Loucks. Research since the 1970s has shown that the pandas
migrate between a higher elevation bamboo species in summer
and a lower elevation species in winter. Scientists say such
information needs to be considered when designating new protected
government has already begun making changes above and beyond
those recommended in the study, which was conducted in 2000.
reserves and five new habitat corridors have been designated
in Qinling. A busy mountain road responsible for carving one
protected area in two has been redirected underground.
China decides to build something, it gets built fast,"
suggested for the Qinling reserves could also usefully be
applied to ensure the survival of pandas in the other five
proposals], if adopted, will stem the fragmentation, enhance
connectivity of habitat, and assure the necessary degree of
habitat integrity to meet the needs of giant pandas in the
future," said Seidensticker. "Analyses such as this
provide the road map that can give the most conservation impact
for the least investment [and] assure a place for wild giant
pandas in the future."
are also reaping the benefits of measures adopted recently
by the Chinese government to control severe flooding.
catastrophic flooding of the Yangtze River and its tributaries
in 1998, authorities took action to prevent future disasters.
Logging has been banned in many flood-susceptible areas until
2010, and financial incentives are encouraging reforestation
on the steep sides of the mountains that have been converted
to agriculture. It's likely that these habitats will support
bamboo given enough time, said Loucks.
indirect effects are pretty influential for panda conservation,"