Thursday, June 1, 2023

Panda habitat examined

April 16, 2001
Associate Professor Jianguo Liu holds the April 6 edition of Science magazine. Liu and other researchers recently published a paper on their research on panda bears. —

Some MSU wildlife experts are looking to have an impact on the protection of giant pandas and endangered species around the world.

Jianguo Liu, an associate professor of fisheries and wildlife, is the lead author of the paper “Ecological Degradation in Protected Areas: The Case of Wolong Nature Reserve for Giant Pandas,” which was published April 6 in Science magazine.

“I, like many people, love pandas and I wanted to do something to help save them,” Liu said. “In order to do this we’re trying to understand how panda habitat changes over time in different locations.”

The study is focused on human deforestation of the Wolong Nature Reserve, a 500,000-acre preserve in China established in 1975 to protect panda bears.

There are only about 1,000 giant pandas left in the wild, and about 10 percent of them are located in the Wolong preserve.

“A lot of panda habitat loss and fragmentation is to a large extent due to human activity,” Liu said. “One of the goals of our research is to help local people understand how they are affecting the preserve because without considering them, it will be impossible to achieve the goal of panda preservation.”

Human population growth in the last 25 years is the main reason for much of the habitat loss, Liu said.

In 1975, there were 2,560 people living in villages surrounding the preserve. In 1995, the population had grown to 4,260, he said.

“This is important because the main labor force is young people,” Liu said. “That means more people cutting down trees and affecting panda habitat.”

Liu, and his group of professors and graduate students, have isolated the areas that have been hit the hardest by deforestation in order to have an impact on the Chinese government.

“Eventually we’d like to help policymakers, internationally and in China, to develop more effective policies to conserve habitat and panda populations,” Liu said. “I think this is an important issue not just for panda conservation, but for biodiversity conservation around the world.”

Marc Linderman, an ecology graduate student, who has worked with Liu for more than three years, said the study is looking at remote sensing data to determine where pandas go and where humans have the highest impacts.

Linderman uses a computer program to isolate deforested areas through satellite pictures and remote sensing.

“With this project we’re hoping to set an example of how to analyze habitat and protect it all around the world,” he said.

Thomas Coon, acting chairperson for the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, said Liu’s research will have an international impact.

“This project has relevance around the world because of the way Dr. Liu has critically examined the way that we manage protected areas,” he said.

“We are very proud of what he’s doing and that he’s being nationally recognized for his work.”

Although Liu is almost done with his research on the Wolong preserve, he still has ecological concerns.

“There are 12,700 protected areas around the world according to the United Nations,” Liu said. “But we don’t know whether those areas are really protected.”


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