Goodbye, Bamboo

Endangered giant pandas are facing a new threat: the loss of their food source, bamboo.

Jan 11, 2013 | By Kelli Plasket

A giant panda feeds on bamboo in China's Qinling Mountains. The bears get water and nutrients from the plant.

In China's Qinling Mountains, giant pandas spend most of their day eating bamboo. The plant makes up 99% of the bears' diet, with some pandas eating about 40 pounds of it a day. But Qinling's pandas may soon have to find another food source. A new study published in the science journal Nature Climate Change reports that warming temperatures may cause the loss of most of the region's bamboo by the end of the century.

A team made up of researchers from Michigan State University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences used climate models to project the effects of climate change on the region's three main bamboo species. They studied the impact of rising temperatures on the spread and growth of bamboo. Bamboo is sensitive to temperature changes. "Even with a 3.6° Fahrenheit increase in temperature, we found that 80% to 100% of bamboo would be gone by the end of the century," Jianguo Liu, one of the study's authors, told TFK.

Protecting Pandas

In recent years, China has stepped up efforts to protect pandas from deforestation and poaching. But Liu says the country has yet to consider the long-term effects of climate change in its conservation planning. Aside from increasing nature reserve areas where pandas are protected, Liu wants China to lower its use of fuels that release greenhouse gases—as should the rest of the world. "The future of pandas," he says, "is in our hands."

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