Study highlights importance of old-growth forests to giant pandas

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Giant Pandas

Study highlights importance of old-growth forests to giant pandas

In cities across China dilapidated old buildings are being leveled to make way for modern new residences. For many Chinese people, this has been part of an overall improvement in quality of life.

But what works for China’s people doesn’t necessarily work for its animals, especially the endangered and environmentally sensitive giant pandas. A recent study by Chinese and Western researchers of the iconic panda has found that old-growth forests rival all-important bamboo as a factor in choosing a habitat.

Why is a forest’s age important to giant pandas? According to a Washington Post summary of the study:

“…one possibility is that the bamboo plants growing under old trees are more nutritious than those found under young trees. There is some evidence for this: Pandas like tall bamboo stems, and clear-cutting leads to shorter ones. The other possibility is that when caring for their young, female pandas hide away in dens, often inside hollow trees. Old-growth trees are larger, so they can contain larger cavities. It has been suggested that the number of suitable dens is a crucial limiting factor on panda breeding.”

The study’s timing couldn’t be better – the Chinese government’s logging ban recently expired and it has been suggested that some areas may remain protected, with other areas opened to logging. It appears that if China wants to protect its beloved guobao (‘national treasure’), it will also have to protect its oldest forests.

Image: Washington Post

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