SICHUAN, December 9, China Daily -- Five mountain ranges in Sichuan account for most of their living area worldwide.
Tourists take photos of giant pandas the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding in Chengdu, southwest China's Sichuan Province.
The giant panda, the black-and-while mammal that is perhaps the world's most recognizable symbol of conservation, is among the luckier of the endangered or vulnerable species.
The past decade has seen major successes in captive breeding of pandas, while the focus has shifted from saving the species to preserving their habitat.
Recent research carried out by Chinese scientists suggested that pandas are an area-sensitive species, and calculated than a minimum area of 114.7 square kilometers is required for their long-term persistence.
The research results were made public on Thursday by Scientific Reports, an online open access scientific journal published by the Nature Publishing Group.
"Some animal species, for example some birds, are area-sensitive, which means they respond badly if the size of their habitat patch is too small," said Yang Zhisong, an associate professor specializing in life science at the China West Normal University in Sichuan province, and an author of the research.
The scientists studied five mountain ranges inhabited by giant pandas in Sichuan province, which account for more than 78 percent of all panda habitat worldwide. The estimated number of wild pandas living in these areas was positively associated with habitat patch area, which means pandas are area-sensitive.
"Previous research focused mainly on habitat selection, habitat assessment and the impact of human activity. However, the effect of habitat patch size received little attention. Our study provides empirical evidence showing the influence of habitat size on the presence of pandas," Yang said.
The presence of wild pandas is most continuous in the Mingshan Mountains and Qionglaishan Mountains in Sichuan province, which are segmented into several patches by human residential areas, farmland and roads. Four of these habitat patches are larger than the minimum area requirement of 114.7 sq km.
The habitats in Daxiangling Mountains and Liangshan Mountains are more fragmented, but some patches are connected with others to relieve living pressure for pandas.
The Xiaoxiangling Mountains is the most highly segmented area in the five mountain ranges surveyed, without any habitat patches large enough to hold relatively viable populations.
"In some regions, we can build corridors between adjacent patches to form a larger habitat area. In other cases, we will have to take engineering measures to enlarge habitats," said Dai Qiang from the Chengdu Institute of Biology affiliated to the Chinese Academy of Sciences, a co-author of the research.
The most recent panda census, released by the State Forestry Administration last year, showed that there were 1,864 wild pandas living in 2.58 million hectares of protected habitat in China, with the number of captive-bred pandas in China totaling 375.
On Monday, the country's leading group for overall reform passed a program for the construction of a national park system that will help increase the integrity, connectivity and coordination of the habitats of endangered or vulnerable species, including pandas.