• Ailuropoda melanoleuca;
  • denning ecology;
  • endangered species;
  • giant panda;
  • limiting resources;
  • maternal care;
  • ursids

ABSTRACT  We studied the denning ecology of giant pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) in the Foping Nature Reserve, China. We identified 17 used and 21 unused cavities of appropriate size to accommodate denning and measured several variables potentially affecting the suitability of these cavities for panda denning. Principal component analysis, combined with traditional univariate tests, indicated that maternal females preferred deeper cavities with a high interior-to-entrance ratio for height and width, suggesting a preference for narrow entrances and roomy chambers. Microhabitat features, including slope and distance to water, were also useful in predicting den use by maternal females. We believe that the availability of suitable dens may limit population size, especially in areas where tree dens have been eliminated by logging of old growth forests. Conservation managers in giant panda reserves can use our data to determine the number of suitable panda dens that are in an area, estimate whether there are enough for the adult female population to use as birthing dens, and—if needed—construct suitable artificial dens to increase the rate of reproduction.