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Climate change may affect panda food supply: Study

Giant pandas' diet is made up almost entirely of bamboo.
Giant pandas' diet is made up almost entirely of bamboo.

Daniel Martins, staff writer

November 12, 2012 — A new study warns changing climate will threaten the main food source for pandas in China's Qinling Mountains.

Climate change may soon threaten several species of bamboo -- which makes up most of the giant panda's diet.

Scientists at Michigan State University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences studied climate change's effects on three species of bamboo in the Qinling Mountains in China's Shaanxi Province.

"It's hard to say if the bamboo species will be extinct in that area, but based on the model, I can say that, in the future, the climate conditions may become unsuitable for those species," Mao-Ning Tuanmu, one of the researchers, told the Weather Network Monday.

That's bad news for giant pandas in that area. The Qinling Mountains are home to an estimated 275 wild pandas, some 17 per cent of the species' remaining population in the wild.

Their diet is made up almost entirely of bamboo. The three bamboo species the scientists studied only reproduce every 30 to 35 years, making it hard to adapt to changing climates.

Tuanmu says the pandas in that region may turn to another bamboo species as an alternative food source, but that potential substitute will not be enough.

"In the Qinling mountains, that species is ... in very small areas, very small patches, so currently that species cannot provide enough food for the giant panda," he said.

The study's authors say looking at climate change's impact on bamboo can help prepare for the challenges the panda species will face in the future.

The paper "Climate change impacts on understory bamboo species and giant pandas in China's Qinling Mountains" was published in this week's Nature Climate Change journal.

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