Giant Panda no evolutionary dead end

Not genetic limitations, but only humans are the greatest source of survival

Giant Panda © Cardiff University
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So far, the giant panda has always been considered a kind of "dead end" of evolution. Too much specialization and a low reproductive rate predestined him to extinction - even from a purely biological point of view. But now researchers have refuted this assumption and proved that it is not the evolution, but clearly the human being is the biggest hurdle in the survival of picky bamboo eater.

The giant panda lives isolated, has extremely close and special requirements for its food and gets only a few offspring. Exactly these characteristics have led to a kind of genetic monoculture within the panda populations. This lack of genetic diversity, however, inevitably leads to an extinction of the species - so far, in any case, the unanimous opinion of the experts.

But now Michael Bruford and Benoît Goossens of the University of Cardiff, along with Chinese colleagues at the West Normal University in Sichuan, led by Fuwen Wei, have refuted this view. In their study, the scientists studied both the genetic development and the population dynamics of animals in protected and unprotected habitats.

"Our research challenges the hypothesis that giant pandas are an evolutionary dead-end, " explains Bruford. "It is very clear, however, that the population dynamics of this species have suffered from human activity, such as deforestation and poaching." Instead of a genetically-based inability to adapt and evolve, researchers see humans as the core of the problem. Indeed, in study areas where conservation programs are being implemented, panda populations are actually thriving and increasing in numbers.

"The results indicate that we need to change our ideas about giant panda evolution, " says Bruford. "The species certainly has a viable future and also has the genetic ability to adapt to new conditions. Protected and in its natural environment, the giant panda is a species with a prosperous future. "Display

(Cardiff University, 28.08.2007 - NPO)