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Human impact on giant pandas studied

Dec. 17, 2012 at 5:28 PM   |   Comments

BEIJING, Dec. 17 (UPI) -- Chinese scientists say genetic study of the giant panda's population history shows human activities are behind recent population divergence and serious decline.

Researchers at the Institute of Zoology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the BGI genomics research institute said a population history of the giant panda from its origin to the present suggests that while global climate changes were the primary drivers in panda population fluctuation for millions of years, human activities have had a greater recent impact.

Threatened by ongoing habitat loss and human persecution, exacerbated by its dietary specialization, habitat isolation and reproductive constraints, there is a perception the species is at an "evolutionary dead end," a BGI release said Sunday.

The genetic reconstruction of giant panda's population history shows several important evolutionary events, including two population expansions, two genetic bottlenecks and two population divergences, the researchers said.

The current six geographic populations of giant panda contain three genetic populations, they said.

Fluctuations in those populations have been driven by past global climate shifts, they said, but it is recent human activities that have likely caused population divergences and a serious decline..

"The varied local adaptations found in our study provide invaluable resource for researchers to better select effective conservation methods to rescue the giant panda and even other endangered species," BGI researcher Shancen Zhao said.

"The translocation of wild-caught individuals or releasing the captive-bred ones may be a feasible approach."

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