When the magnitude 8 Sichuan earthquake struck southern China in May 2008, it left more than 69,000 people dead and 4.3 million homeless. Now ecologists have added to these losses an assessment of the earthquake's impact on biodiversity: namely, habitat for some of the last existing wild giant pandas. In an article published today in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment e-view, researchers show that more than 23 percent of the pandas' habitat in the study area was destroyed, and fragmentation of the remaining habitat could hinder panda reproduction.
The Sichuan region is designated as one of 25 global hotspots for biodiversity conservation, according to a 2000 study. Home to more than 12,000 species of plants and 1122 species of vertebrates, the area includes more than half of the habitat for the Earth's wild giant panda population, says study lead author Weihua Xu of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing.
"We estimate that above 60 percent of the wild giant panda population was affected to some extent by the earthquake," says Xu.
In an effort to develop conservation strategies for the panda's remaining habitat, Xu and his colleagues used satellite imagery, field observations and published research to determine the pandas' habitat loss and fragmentation in the South Minshan region, which is adjacent to the earthquake's epicenter. Since forests are the main vegetation type used by the pandas, the authors compared forested areas in satellite images from September 2007, before the earthquake, to images after the earthquake and its aftershocks, in July 2008.
The authors then combined results based on these satellite data with criteria that make forests suitable for pandas, including elevation, slope incline and presence of bamboo. Their analyses revealed that more than 354 square kilometers, or about 23 percent, of the pandas' habitat was converted to bare land. Of the remaining habitat, the researchers found that large habitat areas had been fragmented into smaller, disconnected patches, which Xu says can be just as harmful as habitat destruction.
"It is probable that habitat fragmentation has separated the giant panda population inhabiting this region, which could be as low as 35 individuals," says Xu. "This kind of isolation increases their risk of extinction in the wild, due in part to a higher likelihood of inbreeding."
Xu and his colleagues propose a plan to encourage pandas to move between patches using specially protected corridors. They also recommend areas to be protected outside of nature reserves, where the earthquake caused more than twice as much damage to panda habitat as inside reserves. Finally, they recommend that post-earthquake relocation of affected towns takes panda habitat into consideration.
"It is vital to the survival of this species that measures are taken to protect panda habitat outside nature reserves," Xu says. "Giant pandas in this region are more vulnerable than ever to human disturbance, including post-earthquake reconstruction and tourism. When coupled with these increasing human activities, natural disasters create unprecedented challenges for biodiversity conservation."
Weihua Xu | EurekAlert!
Invasive Insects Cost the World Billions Per Year
04.10.2016 | University of Adelaide
Malaysia's unique freshwater mussels in danger
27.09.2016 | The University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus
Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion
Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...
Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.
"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...
In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.
A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...
By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.
"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...
COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.
In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...
14.10.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
12.10.2016 | Event News
25.10.2016 | Earth Sciences
25.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy
25.10.2016 | Life Sciences