The Minimum Area Requirement (MAR) for giant panda populations living in the wild - the smallest area of habitat that is required for the long term survival of a population - is calculated in a study in Scientific Reports this week.
Populations of the giant panda were originally found throughout most of southern and eastern China, northern Myanmar and northern Vietnam. However, owing to natural catastrophes and increased human activity, current populations are restricted to six separate regions scattered throughout the rugged mountain ranges at the eastern edge of the Tibetan plateau.
Using datasets on giant panda presence, including footmark and forage traces, Zhisong Yang, Zejun Zhang, Qiang Dai and colleagues calculated the MAR for pandas in five mountain ranges in China that support more than 74% of the total population that remains in the wild. The authors calculated the overall MAR for these populations of giant pandas as 114.7 km2, but comment that the sizes of individual habitat patches have implications for panda conservation. The authors argue that translocation of pandas is insufficient to guarantee the long-term survival of local populations, unless efforts are also made to reduce the break-up of their habitats. They suggest that establishing corridors between habitat patches may reduce the impact of fragmentation; however, expanding habitats is still necessary in mountain ranges where fragmentation is most intense.