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Hopes and challenges for giant panda conservation under climate change in the Qinling Mountains of China

Research paper by Minghao Gong, Tianpei Guan, Meng Hou, Gang Liu, Tianyuan Zhou

Indexed on: 10 Jan '17Published on: 20 Dec '16Published in: Ecology and Evolution



Abstract

One way that climate change will impact animal distributions is by altering habitat suitability and habitat fragmentation. Understanding the impacts of climate change on currently threatened species is of immediate importance because complex conservation planning will be required. Here, we mapped changes to the distribution, suitability, and fragmentation of giant panda habitat under climate change and quantified the direction and elevation of habitat shift and fragmentation patterns. These data were used to develop a series of new conservation strategies for the giant panda. Qinling Mountains, Shaanxi, China. Data from the most recent giant panda census, habitat factors, anthropogenic disturbance, climate variables, and climate predictions for the year 2050 (averaged across four general circulation models) were used to project giant panda habitat in Maxent. Differences in habitat patches were compared between now and 2050. While climate change will cause a 9.1% increase in suitable habitat and 9% reduction in subsuitable habitat by 2050, no significant net variation in the proportion of suitable and subsuitable habitat was found. However, a distinct climate change-induced habitat shift of 11 km eastward by 2050 is predicted firstly. Climate change will reduce the fragmentation of suitable habitat at high elevations and exacerbate the fragmentation of subsuitable habitat below 1,900 m above sea level. Reduced fragmentation at higher elevations and worsening fragmentation at lower elevations have the potential to cause overcrowding of giant pandas at higher altitudes, further exacerbating habitat shortage in the central Qinling Mountains. The habitat shift to the east due to climate change may provide new areas for giant pandas but poses severe challenges for future conservation.