Conservation Implications of Drastic Reductions in the Smallest and Most Isolated Populations of Giant Pandas

Authors

  • LIFENG ZHU,

    1. Key Laboratory of Animal Ecology and Conservation Biology, Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, 1-5 Beichenxilu, Beijing 100101, People's Republic of China
    2. Graduate School of Chinese Academy of Sciences, China, Beijing 100039, People's Republic of China
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  • XIANGJIANG ZHAN,

    1. Key Laboratory of Animal Ecology and Conservation Biology, Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, 1-5 Beichenxilu, Beijing 100101, People's Republic of China
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  • HUA WU,

    1. Key Laboratory of Animal Ecology and Conservation Biology, Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, 1-5 Beichenxilu, Beijing 100101, People's Republic of China
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  • SHANNING ZHANG,

    1. China Wildlife Conservation Association, No 18, Hepingli East Street, Beijing, 100714, People's Republic of China
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  • TAO MENG,

    1. Key Laboratory of Animal Ecology and Conservation Biology, Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, 1-5 Beichenxilu, Beijing 100101, People's Republic of China
    2. Graduate School of Chinese Academy of Sciences, China, Beijing 100039, People's Republic of China
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  • MICHAEL W. BRUFORD,

    1. Biodiversity and Ecological Processes Group, Cardiff School of Biosciences, Cardiff University, Cardiff CF10 3AX, United Kingdom
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  • FUWEN WEI

    Corresponding author
    1. Key Laboratory of Animal Ecology and Conservation Biology, Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, 1-5 Beichenxilu, Beijing 100101, People's Republic of China
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Address correspondence to F. Wei, email weifw@ioz.ac.cn

Abstract

Abstract: In conservation biology, understanding the causes of endangerment is a key step to devising effective conservation strategies. We used molecular evidence (coalescent simulations of population changes from microsatellite data) and historical information (habitat and human population changes) to investigate how the most-isolated populations of giant pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) in the Xiaoxiangling Mountains became highly endangered. These populations experienced a strong, recent demographic reduction (60-fold), starting approximately 250 years BP. Explosion of the human population and use of non-native crop species at the peak of the Qing Empire resulted in land-use changes, deforestation, and habitat fragmentation, which are likely to have led to the drastic reduction of the most-isolated populations of giant pandas. We predict that demographic, genetic, and environmental factors will lead to extinction of giant pandas in the Xiaoxiangling Mountains in the future if the population remains isolated. Therefore, a targeted conservation action—translocation—has been proposed and is being implemented by the Chinese goverment.

Abstract

Resumen:En biología de la conservación, el entendimiento de las causas de riesgo es un paso clave para el diseño de estrategias de conservación. Utilizamos evidencia molecular (simulaciones coalescentes de cambios poblacionales de datos de microsatélite) e información histórica (cambios de hábitat y de la población humana) para investigar cómo las poblaciones más aisladas de pandas gigantes (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) en las Montañas Xiaoxiangling llegaron a estar sumamente en peligro. Estas poblaciones experimentaron una fuerte y reciente reducción demográfica (60 veces) en los últimos 250 años. La explosión de la población humana y el uso de especies agrícolas no nativas en el esplendor del Imperio Qing resultaron en cambios de uso de suelo, deforestación y fragmentación de hábitat, que muy probablemente condujeron a la reducción drástica de las poblaciones más aisladas de pandas gigantes. Pronosticamos que factores demográficos, genéticos y ambientales llevarán a la extinción de pandas gigantes en las Montañas Xiaoxiangling sí las población permanece aislada. Por lo tanto, una acción de translocación se ha propuesto y está siendo implementada por el gobierno chino.

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