Giant Pandas and Climate Change

China Panda
Giant Panda in Chengdu Research Base
Photo: James Godber

This project is a joint study by the University of York and the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh with Sichuan University and the Kuming Institute of Botany focusing on the effect of climate change on the bamboos which are the Giant Pandas’ principal food. Support was provided by the Science and Innovation Office of the British Consulate in Guangzhou.

The research used bioclimatic modelling to demonstrate that while some types of bamboo reduced in range in models of future climate scenarios, others actually increased. The findings will provide useful information to help to develop management plans for conditions of climate change.

Pandas spend 14 hours a day eating, and bamboo forms 99 per cent of their diet, so they are completely reliant on the right bamboo species being present in order to survive.

Edinburgh researchers gathered data on bamboo distribution from both herbarium records and in the Pandas’ home range in Sichuan province. The data was analysed by the University of York team using the YOGA computer programme– York Genetic Algorithm – developed by Colin McClean. Initial work at York was carried out as a group MRes project by Joanne Hodgson, Sam Quin, Matt Geary and Sarah Knight.

Jon Lovett with baby panda

As a guest of Hou Rong at the Giant Panda Breeding Centre, Jon Lovett was able to hold a baby panda.

Photo: James Godber

The results were particularly striking in that some of the key food plants were badly affected, whereas others actually increased their ranges under global warming. This underlines the fact that the impacts of climate change are complex, favouring some species while making others rarer.

The work was presented by Jon Lovett in Chengdu on 31 October 2008 and attracted a great deal of media interest in China.

More information of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh at www.rbge.org.uk

The study was facilitated by the British Consulate in Chongqing.

A summary of the media coverage of this project can be accessed HERE.