Scientists based at the Chinese Academy of Science’s Institute of Zoology spent four years undertaking one of the most intensive and large scale surveys of the panda’s habitat ever completed, examining the features most commonly associated with the panda. While the most important association was, unsurprisingly, the presence of bamboo, the group was surprised to discover that the presence of old-growth forest was almost as important.
Due to the difficulty and expense of completing a survey on this scale, conservation strategies for endangered species such as the panda are usually based on much smaller scale surveys, which are then used as models in order to plan for a much wider area. However, the researchers point out that the importance of old-growth forest was missed by all such previous surveys, suggesting that this approach may be leading to misguided conservation strategies.
As the authors state, “maps and measures of habitat suitability are only as good as the underlying biological assumptions, which are sometimes influenced by the scale over which data are obtained”. While it’s currently unclear why the old-growth forest is so important to pandas, the authors hope that their study will be taken into account by the Chinese government, who are set to review a decade-old logging moratorium later this year.