Implementing solid phase microextraction (SPME) as a tool to detect volatile compounds produced by giant pandas in the environment.

Research paper by Abbey E AE Wilson, Darrell L DL Sparks, Katrina K KK Knott, Scott S Willard, Ashli A Brown

Indexed on: 20 Dec '18Published on: 20 Dec '18Published in: PloS one


Chemical cues are thought to play an important role in mate identification in the solitary giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca). The goal of this study was to detect and identify volatile compounds present in the enclosure air of captive giant pandas. We hypothesized that a subset of compounds produced from breeding animals would be detected in environmental samples because highly volatile chemicals are likely to facilitate mate detection. Samples were collected from the enclosures of 8 giant pandas (n = 4 male, n = 4 female) during the Mar-June breeding season and the Aug-Jan non-breeding period from 2012-2015. Volatile compounds were captured by securing a solid phase micro extraction fiber approximately 3 meters above the ground within a panda enclosure for 6-12 hours. Compounds adsorbed onto the SPME fibers were analyzed by gas chromatography mass spectrometry. Thirty-three compounds were detected in at least 10% of all samples within individual and season and across all subjects within each season. Aromatic compounds made up 27.3% of the enclosure volatile profile, while 21.2% was made of cyclic aliphatic compounds and 51.5% of the enclosure profile was comprised of acyclic aliphatic compounds. Three compounds were likely to be present in male enclosures regardless of season, while Undecane, 4-methyl had a significant (p<0.05) predicted probability of being present in female enclosures. 3,3'-(1,1-Ethanediyl)bis(1H-indole) had a significant (p<0.05) probability of occurrence in male enclosures during the breeding season. Given the prevalence of these compounds, we suspect that these chemicals are important in giant panda communication. This novel sampling technique can detect volatile compounds produced by captive species and also may be a useful tool for detecting pheromones in free-ranging individuals.