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Long-term distribution and habitat changes of protected wildlife: giant pandas in Wolong Nature Reserve, China

Bai, Wenke, Connor, Thomas, Zhang, Jindong, Yang, Hongbo, Dong, Xin, Gu, Xiaodong, Zhou, Caiquan
Environmental science and pollution research international 2018 v.25 no.12 pp. 11400-11408
Ailuropoda melanoleuca, bamboos, censuses, conservation areas, forests, human development, landslides, monitoring, space and time, threatened species, wildlife, wildlife habitats, China
Changes in wildlife habitat across space and time, and corresponding changes in wildlife space use, are increasingly common phenomenon. It is critical to study and understand these spatio-temporal changes to accurately inform conservation strategy and manage wildlife populations. These changes can be particularly large and complex in areas that face pressure from human development and disturbance but are also under protection and/or restoration regimes. We analyzed changes in space use and habitat suitability of giant pandas in Wolong Nature Reserve, China, over three decades using kernel density, spatio-temporal analysis of moving polygons (STAMP), and MaxEnt methods, and data from three national censuses. Between 2001 and 2012, there was a slight retraction in total range, and more area of significant space use decreases than increases. Habitat suitability varied spatially and temporally, with a 4.1% decrease in average suitability between 1987 and 2001 and a 3.5% increase in average suitability in between 2001 and 2012. Elevation and bamboo were the most important habitat predictors across the three censuses. Human and natural disturbance variables such as distance to household and the distance to landslide variable in the 4th census were also important predictors, and likely also negatively influenced important habitat variables such as bamboo and forest cover. We were able to measure changes in space utilization and habitat suitability over a large time scale, highlighting the achievements and challenges of giant panda conservation. Long-term monitoring of the changes in distribution and habitat of threatened species, and an analysis of the drivers behind these changes such as undergone here, are important to inform the management and conservation of the world’s remaining wildlife populations.