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Great Panda Conservation: Even More Species Could Be Saved

Sep 16, 2015 06:25 PM EDT

China's conservation efforts in favor of the giant panda ended up helping various other species of threatened animals, including birds, mammals and amphibians. In addition to these success stories, a recent Duke University study highlights some of the areas that need some more attention.

"China has spectacular protected areas with exceptional numbers of species found nowhere else on Earth," Stuart L. Pimm, professor of conservation ecology at Duke, said in a news release. "The giant panda is the most famous of these -- a global conservation icon. We wanted to know whether it serves as a protective umbrella for other species. We found that the giant panda's geographical range overlaps with 70 percent of forest bird species, 70 percent of forest mammals, and 31 percent of forest amphibian species found only in mainland China."

While this suggests conservation efforts are widely beneficial, a recent study made recommendations for areas that should better protect species. To better understand which areas were best to set aside, the researchers developed a collaborative database of species distribution information. For their study, they chose to specifically examine species living in China, since they often have limited ranges and are at the greatest risk for extinction.

(Photo : Binbin Li, Duke University)
The golden snub-nosed monkey is a forest mammal species found throughout the mountain habitats of southwestern China.

The researchers created their database using already-made maps, which highlighted areas such as southwestern China, where many native species still live. The providence of Sichuan lies within this area, and is where the panda currently survives throughout the nature preserves set up for them.

Knowing the success of the panda, the researchers then created a map predicting specific locations where threatened, but overlooked, species could survive. They then compared their maps to locations of successful forest habitats and existing nature preserves. This enabled them to make an even more specific prediction of which areas would provide more protection to a wider range of species.

"There is great hope in the future," Binbin Li, the paper's lead author and a Ph.D. student working with Pimm, said in a statement. "While the government and the public keep focusing on pandas, it is easier to establish new protected areas and corridors in this region. It gives us the chance to protect the most important areas for other native species while protecting more panda habitats."

Their study was recently published in the journal Conservation Biology

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