Out of Bamboo

shutterstock 103643075 Out of BambooGiant pandas are picky eaters that dine almost exclusively on bamboo. But climate change could force some of the animals’ favorite bamboo species out of current panda habitat, researchers predict.

Giant pandas, which are endangered, eat as much as 38 kilograms of bamboo per day. In China’s Qinling Mountains, the pandas feast mainly on three species called wooden, dragon-head, and Qinling arrow bamboo. The region houses about 17 percent of remaining wild pandas and is one of the most protected parts of the animals’ habitat.

The researchers studied 293 sites in the Qinling Mountains to determine where each species of bamboo currently grows. Next, the team determined which climate conditions were probably needed to support the bamboo. That information allowed the researchers to predict where the bamboo could grow over the next 90 years.

Suitable habitat for the three bamboo species will shift north of the mountains or to higher elevations within the mountains, the team predicts in Nature Climate Change. Assuming the pandas need at least one bamboo species present to survive, more than half of the pandas’ habitat could vanish by 2040 to 2069, according to the study. Even if the bamboo and pandas can move, their new homes “may lie outside the present network of nature reserves,” the authors note.

Another type of bamboo, called Phyllostachys, might replace the three lost bamboo species in the pandas’ current habitat. But when presented with Phyllostachys in the past, giant pandas have turned up their noses.Roberta Kwok | 12 November 2012

Source: Tuanmu, M.-N. et al. 2012. Climate-change impacts on understorey bamboo species and giant pandas in China’s Qinling Mountains. Nature Climate Change doi: 10.1038/nclimate1727.

Image © silver-john | Shutterstock.com

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