Panda habitats are in worse shape today than when the species was first listed as endangered in 1988, according to a paper published online this week in Nature Ecology & Evolution.
In 2016, the giant panda was downgraded from ‘endangered’ to ‘vulnerable’ on the global list of species at risk of extinction. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the organisation which determines conservation status of species, based their re-classification on 2014 data that found an increase in the adult panda population. However, many researchers have highlighted the fact that despite this good news, there is still considerable cause for concern: remaining panda populations are confined to six mountain ranges and consist of only 30 isolated groups, with 18 of these groups comprising no more than 10 individuals.
Ouyang Zhiyun and colleagues use satellite data from the last four decades to show that suitable panda habitats have substantially reduced, and then probe the causes of this decline. They find that earthquakes, human encroachment, agriculture, road building, and logging have all contributed to dividing pandas’ habitats into smaller areas, in a process known as fragmentation. They suggest that the establishment of nature reserves and implementation of a new China-wide urbanization plan will counteract panda fragmentation to a certain extent, but many obstacles remain.