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Climate-change impacts on understorey bamboo species and giant pandas in China’s Qinling Mountains

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Climate change is threatening global ecosystems through its impact on the survival of individual species and their ecological functions1,2. Despite the important role of understorey plants in forest ecosystems3,4,5, climate impact assessments on understorey plants and their role in supporting wildlife habitat are scarce in the literature. Here we assess climate-change impacts on understorey bamboo species with an emphasis on their ecological function as a food resource for endangered giant pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca). An ensemble of bamboo distribution projections associated with multiple climate-change projections and bamboo dispersal scenarios indicates a substantial reduction in the distributional ranges of three dominant bamboo species in the Qinling Mountains, China during the twenty-first century. As these three species comprise almost the entire diet of the panda population in the region, the projected changes in bamboo distribution suggest a potential shortage of food for this population, unless alternative food sources become available. Although the projections were developed under unavoidable simplifying assumptions and uncertainties, they indicate potential challenges for panda conservation and underscore the importance of incorporating interspecific interactions into climate-change impact assessments and associated conservation planning.

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Figure 1: Location and topography of the study area, and the baseline CSAs for the three bamboo species studied.
Figure 2: Projected future distributions of CSAs in 2070–2099 for the three bamboo species studied under the climate projections from four IPCC TAR GCMs (Supplementary Table S1).
Figure 3: Temporal dynamics of the projected changes in the area of giant panda habitat over the twenty-first century.
Figure 4: GCM-related uncertainty of projected changes in giant panda habitat area for the time slice of 2040–2069 under the SRES A2 greenhouse-gas emissions scenario.

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Change history

  • 15 November 2012

    In the version of this Letter originally published online, in the penultimate sentence of the abstract it should have read 'the projected changes in bamboo distribution suggest a potential shortage of food for this population'. This error has now been corrected in all versions of the Letter.


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We thank G. Dang, X. Du, J. Meng and Y. Wang for their invaluable assistance during field campaigns. We also thank the Forestry Department of Shaanxi Province and administrations of nature reserves in the Qinling Mountains for support with fieldwork logistics. This study was supported by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Terrestrial Ecology and Biodiversity programme and the Earth and Space Science Fellowship programme) and the US National Science Foundation (Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems programme and Partnership for International Research and Education).

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M-N.T., A.V., J.A.W and J.L. conceived the ideas and designed the analyses; M-N.T., A.V., Y.L., W.X. and Z.O. collected the data; M-N.T. built the models and performed the data analyses; all authors wrote the paper.

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Correspondence to Jianguo Liu.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Tuanmu, MN., Viña, A., Winkler, J. et al. Climate-change impacts on understorey bamboo species and giant pandas in China’s Qinling Mountains. Nature Clim Change 3, 249–253 (2013).

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