Climate change fears for threatened pandas

CLIMATE change may be about to affect the lives of rare species such as the giant panda according to researchers at York University.

They fear global warming is likely to result in substantial re-distribution of plants and animals.

There is particular concern for animals already struggling, such as the giant panda, which is hanging on in a small area of China.

A joint study carried out by the University of York and the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh with Sichuan University and the Kunming Institute of Botany in China focused on the effect of climate change on the bamboo, which is the giant panda's principal food.

Researchers discovered that while some types of bamboo reduced in range due to global warming, others actually increased.

The findings will provide important information to help to safeguard the endangered animal's future.

Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh, Professor Steve Blackmore, said: "Pandas spend 14 hours a day eating, and bamboo forms 99 per cent of their diet, so they are completely reliant on the right bamboo species being present in order to survive."

Edinburgh researchers gathered data on bamboo distribution from both herbarium records and in the pandas' home range in Sichuan province.

The data was analysed by the York University team using a special computer programme called YOGA – York Genetic Algorithm – developed by Dr Colin McClean, of the university's environment department.

Dr McClean said: "The programme makes a bioclimatic envelope for each bamboo species.

"We can then move this envelope into future climate scenarios to see how the bamboos might be affected by climate change.

"YOGA is particularly useful because it can produce good results on relatively small data sets."

Director of the Centre for Ecology, Law and Policy, Dr Jon Lovett, who led the work in York, said: "The results were particularly striking in that some of the key food plants were badly affected, whereas others actually increased their ranges under global warming.

"So the impacts of climate change are complex, favouring some species while making others rarer.

"Fostering this sort of adaptation seems to be the most important policy approach to adopt now, as global use of fossil fuels, the main driver of climate change, shows little sign of slowing down."

He added: "We should also remember that though the giant panda can help us focus attention on climate change, it is not the only species that will be affected."