Save a panda, save the forest?

Binbin Li

Save a panda, save the forest?

Giant pandas bask in the glow of international stardom, their every live birth or tumble down a hill tweeted by millions. But critics say pandas and other “charismatic megafauna” soak up conservation money and attention, leaving other threatened species in the lurch. Panda proponents have countered that saving the bears can help other animals who share the same habitats—but the evidence has been squishy. Until now. According to a new study, 96% of the panda’s range overlaps with areas identified as the most important “hot spots” for mammals, birds, and amphibians known only to exist in China’s forests, the researchers report online before print in Conservation Biology. In their analysis, the scientists compiled maps on where 132 mammals, 117 birds, and 249 amphibians live in the country, fine-tuning them using elevation data and remote sensing mapping that revealed where forests haven’t been logged. Next, the researchers isolated areas where the number of species in each group was highest—the hot spots—and compared how well those areas overlapped with where pandas occur. In an additional step, they also overlaid maps of China’s system of giant panda national natural reserves to see how well the areas cover these other species, which include the golden snub-nosed monkey, the Tibetan macaque, and the takin (an animal sometimes referred to as a goat-antelope), among others. Surprisingly, they found that the reserves include all of the studied species except for one type of bird. From 2007 to 2014, the number of nature reserves for giant pandas in China doubled from 34 to 67, covering some 33,600 square kilometers. These findings, the scientists say, show that such land conservation matters more than just to the black-and-white bears themselves and the zoo visitors who love them. Still, there are areas where some of these forest animals aren’t protected, the scientists say. To help inform Chinese officials, the researchers identified four areas where future conservation efforts should lie, including in Sichuan province in southwestern China.

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