Pandas are getting too lazy to mate in perfect habitat, scientists suggest

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When pandas are too comfortable in their habitat, the variation in their gene pool decreases. Habitats fragmented to some extent may prompt them to seek food, shelter, and mates elsewhere, contributing to greater genetic variation.

When pandas are too comfortable in their habitat, they no longer move around in search of a better location and their chances of encountering other pandas in the wild decrease, according to the latest research. published in Conservation biology.

The authors wrote that “the amount of habitat and its level of fragmentation had non-linear effects on functional connectivity (gene flow) and inbreeding”.

“Functional connectivity was highest when about 80% of the surrounding landscape was habitat. Although the relationship between amount of habitat and inbreeding was also non-linear, inbreeding increased as habitat increased until about 20 percent of the local landscape contained habitat, after which inbreeding decreased. as habitat increased.

The Guardian Explain this is a ‘great place’ when it comes to aiding animal gene flow: ‘it is greatest when 80% of an area is considered an ideal environment for bears – for example, containing bamboo forests. After this point, models suggest a rapid decline in the success of individuals at spreading and reproducing. “

The Guardian refers to the principle of Goldilocks being in play, from exercise to exploration of exoplanets. For example, an article published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine recount the Goldilocks tale: “a child stumbles upon a house in the woods belonging to a bear family. She tried the porridge, the chairs and the beds; some were too hot / big / hard, some too cold / small / soft, but some were “right”. In exercise and sport, the Goldilocks principle of ‘just the right amount’ has been recognized for decades, while in professional life, physical activity has been designed ‘not to harm ”instead of being“ just right. “

According to an announcement made five years ago by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), giant pandas are no longer on the “endangered” list but are considered a “vulnerable” population. This year, Chinese officials made a similar statement.

However, IUCN has noted that over the next 80 years, climate change could wipe out more than 35 percent of pandas’ bamboo habitat. A concern, such as Guardian The point is that habitat fragmentation could lead to the isolation of pandas, that is, they could “end up without enough food or unable to reproduce”.

According to WWF, while the Chinese government “banned logging in panda habitat in 1998… new roads and railroads continue to cut across the region, further fragmenting forests. This isolates populations of pandas and prevents them from reproducing.

The study Complex effects of habitat quantity and fragmentation on functional connectivity and inbreeding in a population of giant pandas is based on genetic analyzes of panda droppings in Wolong Nature Reserve in China and also on computer modeling.

The authors suggest that large pandas in the wild should not be 100% comfortable and that “it may make sense to think that local landscapes containing more than 80% habitat are attractive to individuals. rather than as obstacles to their movements “.

“Although inbreeding in local panda populations was also affected non-linearly by the amount of habitat, our results indicated that the lowest inbreeding occurred at the maximum amount of habitat,” continued -they.

According to the study, the functional connectivity (gene flow) of pandas “increases as the proportion of habitat in a landscape increases, it decreases when that proportion exceeds 80 percent,” says the Guardian.

Study authors, Connor T., Qiao M., Scribner K. et al, recommend that “landscapes with more uneven habitats should be prioritized for conservation and restoration in a scientifically informed manner (aiming 80 for cent of habitat that maintains edges) to maximize the health of the giant panda population.

This is because they believe that a lot of resources could mean that the pandas would stay where they are and not need to go looking for food, drink and mates.

They also note that the genetic diversity of pandas decreased slightly as the proportion of habitat increased (inversely correlated) but that after about 25 percent, genetic diversity increased as the proportion increased (directly correlated).

As a result, the study highlights the need for a large amount of habitat for large pandas in the wild, but that an environment that is not necessarily perfect is good for their survival, in fact, could be. beneficial.

“The finding that the optimum amount of habitat for functional connectivity is less than 100% gives hope for already disturbed areas of panda habitat and suggests that these areas should not be ignored in management plans. as inappropriate, ”the team wrote.

“Additionally, by aiming for a ‘more homogeneous’ landscape, plans to connect isolated subpopulations of pandas may be more realistic and achievable than previously thought.”

Talk to GuardianClaudio Sillero, professor of conservation biology at the University of Oxford – not involved in the research – says the study could be applied to populations other than giant pandas.

“Most large carnivores live in increasingly fragmented landscapes. It may well be that the disorderly nature of their interface with human activity is causing more animals to disperse or travel further, and could result in greater genetic connectivity and increased population persistence, ”he says. .

Source: TRTWorld and agencies


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