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The Long-term Tolerance of Giant Panda Habitat to Climate Change

Paper Reviewed
Li, T., Luo, P., Luo, C., Yang, H., Li, Y., Zuo, D., Xiong, Q., Mo, L., Mu, C., Gu, X., Zhou, S., Huang, J., Li, H., Wu, S., Cao, W., Zhang, Y., Wang, M., Li, J., Liu, Y., Gou, P., Zhu, Z., Wang, D., Liang, Y., Bai, S. and Zou, Y. 2020. Long-term empirical monitoring indicates the tolerance of the giant panda habitat to climate change under contemporary conservation policies. Ecological Indicators 110: 105886.

The giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) is native to China and is often portrayed by climate alarmists as a species on the brink of extinction due to climate change. Indeed, according to Li et al. (2020), "many studies based on climate models and ecological niche modelling have shown that climate change would cause significant degradation to various [panda] habitats," leaving them vulnerable to decline and/or extinction. However, they add that these studies may well have "overestimated the impact of climate change" by not including key biotic interactions into consideration in their analyses. Hoping to add new light to this topic, Li et al. set out to empirically analyze the giant panda's habitat area in a protected region of China over the past 40 years in order to learn whether or not the models were correct in suggesting habitat decline in response to CO2-induced climate change.

The study area was located in the transition region between the Qinghai-Tibet plateau and the Sichuan basin, which is composed of subtropical evergreen broadleaf forest and warm temperate deciduous broadleaf forest. Historical vegetation survey and meteorological data from 107 plots were analyzed using linear mixed effect models to investigate long-term changes in plant diversity and cover.

Results of the analysis revealed there was a long term warming and drying climate trend in the study area. Over the period 1975-2016 mean annual temperatures warmed by 1.76°C and annual precipitation declined by 108 mm (a 12.3% decline). Nevertheless, despite these unfavorable climate conditions, the 25-member research team reports that "plant species richness, different functional groups and dominant tree species abundance have kept relatively stable." What is more, they note that "the abundance of the giant panda's main food, bamboo, has increased." Consequently, the authors say that "the quality of habitat was relatively stable over [the four] decades."

Such stability, in the words of the authors, suggests that "the biotic interactions (plant-plant, plant-animal) and biotic adaptive behavior and ability should be considered when forecasting plant community responses to climate change and changes in species distribution." If they are not, such forecasts will likely overestimate species decline and extinction probabilities. And in this regard, Li et al. point to two such failed studies. When neglecting to account for biological interactions those works predicted bamboo species losses between 45 and 87%, when in reality bamboo abundance increased. And as for why the bamboo species did not negatively react to the observed climate shift toward warmer and drier conditions, this question was beyond the scope of the authors' study. However, it could well be due to inherent tolerance or adaptability of the species or, more likely, the species benefited from the aerial fertilization effects of rising atmospheric CO2.

Posted 24 February 2020