With their numbers already threatened by a slow breeding rate, China’s endangered giant pandas are now facing a bamboo shortage because of climate change, according to a new report on Sunday.
A study in China’s Qinling Mountains, which are home to about 270 of the endangered pandas, showed that we should expect a “substantial” decline in the amount of bamboo in the coming century as the climate continues to warm, reports The Associated Free Press.
A team of researchers from both the United Stated and China warned in the journal Nature Climate Change:
“The pandas may face a shortage of food unless they can find alternative food sources.”
Currently 99 percent of a giant panda’s food consists of bamboo, and the animal devours up to 84 pounds each day, meaning that the iconic black-and-white bear’s survival is linked to their ability to find bamboo.
A statement on the research says that, like the bear that depends on it, bamboo also has a slow reproductive rate and flowers every 30 to 35 years, meaning it would be slot to adapt to a change in its local climate.
Yahoo! News notes that conservation groups believe if bamboo can be moved to higher elevations, then pandas will move to the new habitat and have a better chance of survival. Research team member Jianguo Liu, a sustainability scientist at Michigan State University, stated:
“It is tough, but I think there’s still hope, if we take action now. If we wait, then we could be too late.”
While many pandas in the wild live in nature reserves that are protected from human encroachment, almost all of the land on the reserves will be unsuitable to bamboo (and therefore pandas) if the temperatures rise as predicted. Liu stated:
“All the models are quite consistent — the general trend is the same. The difference is the degree of the changes. Even with very hopeful scenarios, where we allow bamboo to go anywhere it wants, there are still very severe consequences. Of course, if the bamboo has nowhere to go, then the panda habitat will be lost more quickly.”
With the pandas’ dependent on bamboo as their almost only source of nourishment, the study paints a bleak future for the iconic black-and-white bear, should a bamboo shortage occur.