Giant panda's population history reconstructed

Giant panda's population history reconstructed

Chinese researchers have successfully reconstructed a continuous population history of the threatened giant panda – rarest member of the bear family – from its origin to the present.

The findings suggest whereas global changes in climate were the primary drivers in panda population fluctuation for millions of years, human activities were likely to underlie population divergence and serious decline.  The latest study led by Institute of Zoology of Chinese Academy of Sciences and Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI) and published in Nature Genetics reveals a good example for assessing and establishing the best conservation method for other endangered species.

Looked upon as the ambassador for all endangered species, giant panda is a well-recognised symbol of international wildlife conservation.

The giant panda is currently threatened by continued habitat loss, human persecution, among others. Its dietary specialisation, habitat isolation, and reproductive constraints have led to a perception that this is a species at an "evolutionary dead end", destined for deterministic extinction in the modern world.

Researchers carried out whole genome re-sequencing of 34 wild giant pandas and found the current six geographic populations of giant panda could be divided into three genetic populations, including Qinling (QIN), Minshan (MIN) and Qionglai-Daxiangling-Xiaoxiangling-Liangshan (QXL).

They found several important evolutionary events such as two population expansions, two bottlenecks and two population divergences. The giant panda has a very special bamboo diet, while its ancestor was omnivorous or carnivores.

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