Giant Pandas: Give Birth More Frequently When Able To Choose Own Mates
An "emotional spark" may be all giant pandas need to produce more cubs, a new study revealed. Scientists often rely on artificial insemination to ensure scarce populations of these endangered animals survive, but the solution to population declines may be much simpler: Let pandas choose their mates freely.
Arranged marriages are all too common for giant pandas, and often unsuccessful. Generally, pandas living in captivity are provided a mate based on "genetic profiling," which is used to minimize inbreeding and expand genetic diversity, thus ensuring the success of offspring. However, pandas forced on one another never really seem to hit it off. This is of important concern since there roughly only 1,864 giant pandas remaining in the wild, according to the World Wildlife Fund.
This prompted researchers from the U.S. and China to explore ways they could make this process less frustrating. For their study, the team of researchers observed captive pandas living at the Chengdu Panda Base, a branch of the China Conservation and Research Centre for the Giant Panda in Sichuan province, according to a news release.
Males and females were housed in separate enclosures and only allowed limited interaction with each other through cage bars. This allowed them to monitor the animals' "mate preference behavior," which includes their playfulness, bond-forming, sexual arousal, and even aggression or lack of interest. Later, the pandas were introduced to both preferred and non-preferred partners for mating, which revealed a mutual relationship yielded the highest reproductive performance.
"Mate incompatibility can impede captive breeding programs by reducing reproductive rates," researchers wrote in their study, recently published in the journal Nature Communications. "Giant pandas paired with preferred partners have significantly higher copulation and birth rates."
Their findings could have significant implications for improving conservation of the giant panda.
"Incorporating mate choice into conservation breeding programs could make a huge difference for the success of many endangered species breeding programs, increasing cost-effectiveness and overall success," Meghan Martin-Wintle, a conservation biologist from the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, added in a statement.
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