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Diet and foraging-site selection by giant pandas in a National Nature Reserve in China

In: Animal Biology
Authors:
Wei Wei 1Key Laboratory of Southwest China Wildlife Resources Conservation of Ministry of Education, Shida Road 1#, Nanchong 637009, China

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Juanjuan Zeng 1Key Laboratory of Southwest China Wildlife Resources Conservation of Ministry of Education, Shida Road 1#, Nanchong 637009, China

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Han Han 1Key Laboratory of Southwest China Wildlife Resources Conservation of Ministry of Education, Shida Road 1#, Nanchong 637009, China

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Hong Zhou 1Key Laboratory of Southwest China Wildlife Resources Conservation of Ministry of Education, Shida Road 1#, Nanchong 637009, China

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Yonggang Nie 2Key Laboratory of Animal Ecology and Conservation Biology, Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, 100101, China

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Shibin Yuan 1Key Laboratory of Southwest China Wildlife Resources Conservation of Ministry of Education, Shida Road 1#, Nanchong 637009, China

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Zejun Zhang 1Key Laboratory of Southwest China Wildlife Resources Conservation of Ministry of Education, Shida Road 1#, Nanchong 637009, China

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For any endangered species, our understanding of the spatial variability in its diet across its distribution range, can be important for its conservation. This study focuses on the feeding habitat of the giant panda. For one full year, we surveyed seasonal foraging behaviors of giant pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) in Foping Nature Reserve, China. The results indicated that giant pandas mainly foraged on new shoots of Bashania fargesii and Fargesia qinlingensis in spring and summer, and leaves constituted the major part of their diet in autumn and winter. Stems only marginally occurred in their diet in late winter and early spring. The general pattern in diet composition of giant pandas across mountains reflected the combined consequence of nutrition quality and food availability. Factors affecting foraging-site selection by giant pandas differed across seasons. In spring, they preferred foraging sites closer to trails, with new shoots of B. fargesii higher in basal diameter and less affected by worms. In summer, they foraged at sites with higher density of new shoots and perennial bamboos. Besides overstorey canopy, slope and distance to trails were the other two factors affecting their foraging-site selection in autumn. Temporal variation in diet composition and foraging-site selection exhibited by giant pandas perhaps reflected behaviorally adaptive strategies to changing environmental factors, helping to maximize their energy intake for successful survival and reproduction. Our results, for the first time, support the hypothesized negative effect of some worms on foraging-site selection by giant pandas due to their ingestion of new shoots in spring. Protecting of giant panda foraging sites in these areas where abundant young bamboo resource exist, strengthening management of human activities which can influence giant pandas forage to improve forage habitat quality and widely implementing actions of biological worm pest control during the period when shoot sprouts are eaten can potentially have important implications for habitat conservation for this species.

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