Panda Diets and Conservation

Using DNA to understand bamboo and the complexity of giant panda diet

Project Leader: Dr Linda Neaves

Giant panda mainly eat bamboo. However, beneath this simplistic statement lies a complex issue: bamboo species are difficult to tell apart (especially when digested) and over 60 species may be consumed and this may vary geographically, temporally and among individuals. Furthermore, not all species of bamboo are the same to a panda as they vary in nutritional content and digestibility. In addition, pandas occasionally eat food other than bamboo. 

Their reclusive nature and difficulties distinguishing bamboo species collectively restrict our understanding of panda diet and hence habitat requirements.  This project employs genomic approaches to obtain detailed information on panda diet and bamboo distributions to refine our understanding of optimal panda habitat, how this may change in the future and how it can best be restored.  Specifically we are aiming to understand:

  1. Which species of bamboo (and any other species) are consumed by panda and how does this vary in space, through seasons, and among individuals?
  2. What is the geographic distribution of the key bamboo species in panda diet?
  3. How does information on diet impact on our understanding of suitable panda habitat and how it may change in the future?

Panda Scat

The project is funded by the Leverhulme Trust and is part of an international effort by the Edinburgh Consortium for Giant Panda Conservation and Forest Landscape Restoration - and includes expertise from the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS), the Kunming Institute of Botany and the Institute of Zoology at the Chinese Academy of Science, China Conservation and Research Centre for Giant Pandas, Panda Centre within the Wolong Nature Reserve and Australian Museum Research Institute.

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