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Giant Pandas and Climate Change

Overview

This assessment is one in a series resulting from a WWF study that assesses the vulnerability of numerous species to the effects of climate change. For each species, we also recommend climate-adaptive management strategies. View other species in the series.

GIANT PANDA (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) population numbers have begun to increase in parts of their range, but their overall population size still remains very small, and only 6 populations have more than 100 individuals. This, coupled with a long generation time and low reproductive rate, will limit their ability to adapt to a changing climate.

Bamboo makes up almost 90% of their diet, and may itself be quite vulnerable in a changing climate. It is subject to periodic, synchronous flowering and die-off, forcing giant pandas to relocate to areas with healthy bamboo. Bamboo has a slow colonization rate, and may not be able to shift to higher elevations or latitudes at the same rate as giant pandas might. 

Human activities such as agriculture, logging, and infrastructure development also pose a big threat. Giant pandas have been allowed to persist only at elevations higher than land that can be used for productive agriculture. However, as the agricultural value of land in current panda habitat increases under a changing climate, activities like growing crops and grazing livestock may further encroach on their habitat.

Priorities for climate-informed giant panda conservation should include maintaining and increasing suitable, connected habitat, and restoration of habitat with bamboo species or genotypes which are adapted to a warmer climate. It is also essential to help people adapt to the changing climate, and minimize habitat loss and fragmentation caused by agriculture and other land uses.

Determining species vulnerability

The study identified the key vulnerabilities of a species based on four factors:

Sensitivity: the inability of the species to persist, as is, under changing climatic conditions.

Adaptive capacity: the ability of the species to respond to changes in climate.

Exposure: the extent of climatic change and variation that the species encounters and is projected to encounter.

Other threats: any other relevant threats, as well as the human responses to climate change that exacerbate these threats.

Giant panda range map © WWF Giant panda range