The giant panda, Ailuropoda melanoleuca, is a highly specialized Ursid whose diet consists almost entirely of various species of bamboo. Bamboo (Bambusoideae) is a grass subfamily whose species often exhibit a synchronous semelparity. Synchronous semelparity can create local drops in carrying capacity for the panda. We modeled the interaction of pandas and their bamboo food resources with an age structured panda population model linked to a natural history model of bamboo biomass dynamics based on literature values of bamboo biomass, and giant panda life history dynamics. This paper reports the results of our examination of the interaction between pandas and their bamboo food resource and its implications for panda conservation. In the model all panda populations were well below the carrying capacity of the habitat. The giant panda populations growth was most sensitive to changes in birth rates and removal of reproductive aged individuals. Periodic starvation that has been documented in conjunction with bamboo die-offs is probably related to the inability to move to other areas within the region where bamboo is still available. Based on the results of this model, giant panda conservation should concentrate on keeping breeding individuals in the wild, keep corridors to different bamboo species open to pandas, and to concentrate research on bamboo life history.
Additional publication details
Giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) population dynamics and bamboo (subfamily Bambusoideae) life history: a structured population approach to examining carrying capacity when the prey are semelparous