Top Story: November 15, 2012

Bamboo, Pandas and Climate

PandaBamboo

Will anyone care if a few species of bamboo die-off because of climate change? What about if giant pandas die-off? Climate change research seems to focus on charismatic animal species, but perhaps we need a different view.

Despite the important role of understory plants in forest ecosystems, climate impact assessments on understory plants and their role in supporting wildlife habitat are scarce in the literature.

That’s part of an abstract in a new paper in Nature Climate Change. A group of researchers at Michigan State University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences decided to look at the future of a few bamboo species under different climate change models.

The scientists studied bamboo species that carpet the forest floors of prime panda habitat in northwestern China. Unlike some of the more common, fast growing-species, the bamboo species that serve as understory in the Qinling Mountains only flower and reproduce every 30 to 35 years, which limits the plants’ ability to adapt to changing climate and can spell disaster for a food supply and more.

These mountains are home to about 275 wild pandas, or 17 percent of the remaining wild population. Bamboo makes up 99% of the giant pandas’ diet. Sadly, even under the most optimistic climate change scenario, bamboo die-offs would effectively cause this prime panda habitat to become inhospitable by the end of the 21st century.

The scientists are aware of how important the pandas are in telling this story. “The giant panda is a special species,” says lead researcher Mao-Ning Tuanmu. “People put a lot of conservation resources into them compared with other species. We want to provide data to guide that wisely.”

But the pandas are only a part of the story. Bamboo is a vital part of forest ecosystems—providing essential food and shelter for other wildlife, including other endangered species like the ploughshare tortoise and purple-winged ground-dove. It’s all interconnected. From Science News:

Scientists need to pay more attention, the team writes, to how changes in one part of the ecosystem (like bamboo) affect others within the same ecosystem (like pandas).

Image: MSU

comments

Previous Top Stories

 

About Science Today

Science Today is the California Academy of Sciences’ channel for current stories on cutting-edge technologies, life, Earth, space and sustainability. Content is produced in-house and is distributed throughout the museum, on the internet and through various partners. Please share your comments on what you find important in the changing world of science.