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Molecular censusing doubles estimate of key giant panda population

Employing a noninvasive technique that uses genetic information to identify individual pandas in the wild, researchers have revised--upward--size estimates of a key giant panda population in China. The research is reported in the June 20th issue of Current Biology by a team of scientists from China and the UK, including Fuwen Wei of the Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences and Michael W. Bruford of Cardiff University.

The giant panda is one of the world's most charismatic endangered species and has an emblematic status for the conservation movement worldwide. Its attraction stems in part from its elusive nature: A wary creature with an unusual dietary dependence on bamboos, it is now found only in a restricted mountainous region in China. These characteristics have also shielded important knowledge needed to save the panda from extinction.

Understanding population trends for giant pandas has been a major task for conservation authorities in China for the past thirty years, during which three increasingly sophisticated national surveys were carried out. The first two revealed alarming evidence for declines across the giant panda's range. However, the most recent survey, completed in 2002, showed the first evidence of a recovery, thanks largely to protection measures taken by the Chinese government, including support for a network of natural reserves and strictly enforced bans on poaching and deforestation.

Nonetheless, given the variable accuracy of traditional ecological census methods, other approaches to accurately estimating panda population size are needed. In the new work, the Chinese and UK researchers re-examined the ecological estimate for a key reserve population of giant pandas in Wanglang Nature Reserve. To boost the accuracy of their study, they used recently developed noninvasive techniques, including DNA sequence profiling from fecal samples, that have been successfully used for censusing wild animal populations.
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Contact: Heidi Hardman
hhardman@cell.com
617-397-2879
Cell Press
19-Jun-2006


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