China's Giant Pandas May be Saving Other Endemic Species

First Posted: Sep 18, 2015 04:20 PM EDT

Protecting China's giant pandas may not just be helping the bears; it could also be benefiting other threatened species. Scientists have found that conservation efforts for these charismatic animals could have effects that stretch much further than expected.

"China has spectacular protected areas with exceptional numbers of species found nowhere else on Earth," said Stuart L. Pimm, one of the researchers, in a news release. "The giant panda is the most famous of these-a global conservation icon. We wanted to know whether it serves as a protective umbrella for other species."

In order to conduct the new study, the researchers created a comprehensive database of species distributions, based on maps compiled by hundreds of naturalists. These maps showed where species of amphibians, birds and mammals occur in China. Of particular interest were species that only live in China.

So what did they find? It turns out that most of these native species are concentrated in the mountains of southwestern China, especially in the province of Sichuan. This is exactly the places where the giant panda now survives, and where many nature preserves have been established to protect them.

"We found that the giant panda's geographical range overlaps with 70 percent of forest bird species, 70 percent of forest mammals, and 31 percent of forest amphibian species found only in mainland China," said Pimm.

The researchers also created a new map that predicted the locations within the mountainous region where each endemic species could best survive. They then identified specific areas and elevations where vital forest habitat remained, and overlaid this information onto a map of existing nature preserves. This map, in particular, showed which areas should be protected in the future.

The findings could be huge for conservation efforts, especially for these endemic species.

The findings are published in the journal Conservation Biology.

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