Creating cool artificial spots in forests may be the best way to save giant pandas from climate change.
Giant pandas are struggling to survive in their natural habitat as the planet grows warmer. If a panda is subject to heat for a continuous period of time, it may face some problems that will threaten its survival as well as the survival of the species. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) declared that pandas were no longer endangered just last year, but heat stress may put the species in danger of extinction again.
Guozhen Shen of Beijing's Chinese Academy of Sciences says that 25°C is the temperature limit for pandas. Any higher than this can put pandas in danger of heat stress. Researchers now say that pandas face up to 30°C of heat stress in areas within their habitats.
What exactly can heat stress do to pandas, though? The most obvious effect, of course, is dehydration. Pandas have evolved to adapt to cooler weather, and may likely have problems with adapting to warmer weather. They may experience problems with their metabolism as well as their reproductive system, which may cause problems down the line with the entire species. Even the health of panda cubs may suffer, since they're susceptible to illness in higher temperatures.
Pandas are foragers whose diet consists mostly of bamboo. Pandas may need to move away from their usual haunts to escape the heat, but foraging and finding bamboo may become difficult.
Climate change and rising temperatures can also hit the bamboos that provide much of the pandas' sustenance. Scientists aren't sure yet, but one of two scenarios might pan out. The first is that the rising temperatures may kill off bamboo. Per the second scenario, bamboo may instead grow stronger and more prolific than ever before.
Researchers suggest that artificial microhabitats may be able to keep pandas away from the effects of rising temperatures. These microhabitats will use the forests' natural features to create cool spaces that stave off the heat. They can also have narrow entrances that will keep warm air out and cool air in. Of course, there is also the option of planting more bamboo in certain areas to provide more food as well as cover.
Pandas may be out of the woods, endangerment-wise, but it doesn't mean that the species is strong enough to withstand new threats. Climate change is just one in a series of things that threaten the well-being of the species. Other forms of human activity also impact pandas and their chances of thriving.
As of now, researchers say that pandas live in patches of habitats. Panda numbers are also still quite low, which isn't good for the species's genetic health. Thus, these fragmented and separate habitats need interconnections that will allow the pandas to interact more easily.
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