Global warming and climate change may be on their way claiming their next victims: Pandas. A new study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, estimates that temperature hikes in China over the next century will have a negative impact on bamboo. Pandas, which are already an endangered species with less than 2,000 in the world, solely consume bamboo.
The researchers of the study have advised that if bamboo can move to new habitats at higher elevations then pandas can have hope for survival. But this needs to take place fast. The scientists also warn that if the conservation program takes too much time then human activity could claim all the habitats capable of supporting bamboo in the world.
“It is tough, but I think there’s still hope, if we take action now,” said research team member Jianguo Liu to Live Science. “If we wait, then we could be too late.
The researchers, who used climate-change models to see the fate of three bamboo species consumed by pandas in the Qinling Mountain region of China, found that 80 to 100 percent of the bamboo will disappear by the end of the 21st century if the bamboo is restricted to grow in its current natural habitat.
Why? Because the rising temperatures would no longer make its natural habitat a feasible place for the bamboo to grow. What’s more, reserves that currently house pandas to protect the species from human encroachment will soon be unsuitable for growing bamboo, and thus, unsuitable for protecting pandas.
“All the models are quite consistent — the general trend is the same,” Liu tells LiveScience. “The difference is the degree of the changes. Even with very hopeful scenarios, where we allow bamboo to go anywhere it wants, there are still very severe consequences. Of course, if the bamboo has nowhere to go, then the panda habitat will be lost more quickly.”
Unfortunately for pandas, global warming depleting their food supply is not their only obstacle. As one of the most endangered species in the world, pandas have few habitats that can house the species since human activity and development have limited many options. Aside from their natural habitats in China, many pandas live in zoos and breeding centers around the world.
“To really protect pandas, you cannot just stick [them] into a breeding center or a zoo,” Liu said, noting that the animals’ genetic diversity would suffer, among other issues. “That’s not a long-term solution.”