Pandas aren’t out of the woods yet - In fact, forest wisdom is even more critical

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When it comes to understanding how giant pandas pick habitat, researchers get a much better picture by watching their whole journey, not just the potty breaks.

Vanessa Hull, a research associate at Michigan State University’s Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability (CSIS) spent two years working in the relatively uncharted waters of tracking wild pandas fitted with GPS collars. In the Sept. 14 edition of the journal PLoS ONE, she and colleagues fill in the gaps of understanding how pandas spend their days.

The importance of research that sheds light on what pandas need from their habitat and how they are sharing their land with humans was underscored in early September when their status was upgraded from “endangered” to “vulnerable” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List. 

Since pandas are rare, extremely shy and live in remote, dense forests, it has been difficult to really understand what kind of habitat they prefer because it’s hard to observe them. Following their path by their feces has been one of the main ways of understanding where they are living. But that method has limitations.

“The scientific community has been making some oversimplifications about how pandas relate to their habitat,” Hull said. “Our results show us that we have been missing things in the past when we just looked at where we were finding feces in the field. When we go out and look for panda feces, this is just giving us one snapshot, but it isn’t totally representative of how a panda sees and uses its habitat, especially when you consider that we haven’t been able to get to all the areas where pandas go to on foot.“

MSU AgBioResearch scientist and CSIS director Jianguo “Jack” Liu co-authored the paper.

For the full story, please visit MSU Today.

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