Environmental stratification to model shifts in the historic distribution of the giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca)
Hickie, Jonathan L.D.
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Aim: Examine changes in the historic distribution of giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) through the application of environmental stratification to current climate and paleoclimate conditions. In addition, assess potential implications for future conservation. Location: Central Asia and China: 60° E, 140° E, 20° N, 50° N Methods: Using Weka Data Mining Software, a subset of the Global Environmental Stratification (GEnS) was predicted for the current climate, and paleoclimates at Mid-Holocene (M-H), about 6000 years before present (BP), and Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), about 22,000 BP. The known ranges of giant panda today and the recent past (200-300 years before now) were applied to the GEnS of the current climate, to identify bioclimatic conditions suitable for giant panda. GEnS maps at M-H and LGM time-slices were then used to assess the location and extent of these suitable giant panda habitats under past climate conditions. Results: GEnS demonstrates shifts in environmental conditions across the study area between timeslices. The most extensive bioclimate zone within the giant panda’s current range is “Cool Temperate and Moist”. This is in contrast to the dominant zone in the panda’s substantially larger range in the recent past, “Warm Temperate and Mesic”. At M-H and LGM these zones are found continuously across a large extent of China, but are fragmented beyond here. Main conclusions: Past climatic conditions, and the GEnS strata derived from them, demonstrate why panda have remained restricted almost entirely to Central and South China. The impact of human population increase has reduced the giant panda’s range to the periphery of its historic extent. This has implications for future conservation as the bioclimatic conditions of its current range does not fully represent the scope of potentially suitable giant panda habitats.