The diet of the giant panda
- Giant panda diet may be more complex than it appears
- Using DNA we are identifying which bamboos and other plants and animals panda eat
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.
Pandas are very fussy eaters and not all species of bamboo provide a panda with the same nutritional content and digestibility. In addition, pandas occasionally eat foods other than bamboo. Developing our understanding of panda diet and habitat, will help us to restore and conserve their habitat in the future.
RBGE is leading an international project to investigate the bamboos in giant panda habitat and the diet of giant panda. The remote areas and dense bamboo forests they inhabit, their reclusive nature and difficulties in distinguishing bamboo species collectively restrict out understanding of the details of giant panda diet and their unique relationship with bamboo
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:
- Which species of bamboo (and any other species) are consumed by panda and how does this vary in space, through seasons, and among individuals?
- What is the geographic distribution of the key bamboo species in panda diet?
- Are bamboos on different mountains and in different mountain ranges linked by gene flow?
- How does information on diet impact on our understanding of suitable panda habitat and how it may change in the future?
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, Peking University, China Conservation and Research Centre for Giant Pandas, Panda Centre within the Wolong Nature Reserve, Tangjiahe National Nature Reserve, Laohegou Reserve and Australian Museum Research Institute.
For more information contact Dr Linda Neaves
Good to Know
Giant pandas have lost much of their habitat and we need to understand it, in order to conserve and restore it
We use genomic approaches to sequence DNA of bamboos and giant panda poo to work out which species occur where and which are eaten by panda.