Move over, polar bears. Panda bears are now climate change’s latest potential victims, according to new research published in Nature Climate Change. As things stand, climate change is set to wipe out much of the bamboo forests that pandas rely on for food, meaning the bears won’t be able to feed themselves.
The researchers’ study took place in Shaanxi province in China, where 275 pandas—17 percent of the entire wild giant panda population—live today. Pandas only eat bamboo, but that plant may be particularly susceptible to climate change because of its peculiar reproductive cycle and temperature sensitivity. Some species only flower ever 30 to 35 years, for example, and all of the researchers’ models predicted major bamboo die-offs as the climate warms.
This tragic scenario may play out by the end of the century, The Guardian reports. Human development around the pandas’ current range also acts to exacerbate that threat by blocking the bears’ ability to move from failing to flourishing forest patches.
New knowledge in hand, the researchers are hoping to figure out ways to better supply the pandas with food in the future and also to build natural bridges to link wilting forests with more robust ones.
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