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Giant panda can survive: New research challenges perceptions of endangered species

25 August 2007

The giant panda is not at an "evolutionary dead end" and could have a long term viable future, according to new research involving scientists from Cardiff University.

Previous studies have found that the giant pandas isolation, unusual dietary requirements and slow reproductive rates have led to a lack of genetic diversity that will inevitably lead the species to extinction.

Now a study by Professor Michael Bruford and Dr Benoît Goossens from the School of Biosciences, in collaboration with Professor Fuwen Wei and colleagues from the Institute of Zoology along with the China West Normal University in Sichuan, has found that the decline of the species can be linked directly to human activities rather than a genetic inability to adapt and evolve.

"Our research challenges the hypothesis that giant pandas are at an ‘evolutionary dead end’" said Professor Bruford. "It is however clear that the species has suffered demographically at the hands of human activities such as deforestation and poaching".

The study gives a new genetic perspective on the giant panda, as well as tracing its demographic history. The research also shows that in areas where habit conservation projects are in place, the giant panda is flourishing and population numbers are increasing.

"Our research suggests we have to revise our thinking about the evolutionary prospects for the giant panda" said Professor Bruford. "The species has a viable future and possesses the genetic capacity to adapt to new circumstances. Conservation efforts should therefore be directed towards habitat restoration and protection. In their natural environment, the giant panda is a species that can have a bright future."

The research is reported in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution.

-Ends-

Notes to Editors:

1. Cardiff School of Biosciences

The Cardiff School of Biosciences addresses the major biological questions which face health and life scientists. The major research areas of the School are: biodiversity and ecology, connective tissue biology, environmental biochemistry and microbiology, mammalian genetics, molecular enzymology and entomology, and neuroscience cell biology. The School also houses the Common Cold Centre, the world’s only centre dedicated to researching and testing new medicines for treatment of the symptoms of flu and the common cold. The School achieved a one hundred per cent success in the national, independent assessment of university teaching quality. The top ‘excellent’ grade was awarded to Pure and Applied Biology, Biochemistry, Anatomy and Physiology, and to the first and second year pre-clinical training for doctors and dentists.

2. Cardiff University

Cardiff University is recognised in independent government assessments as one of Britain’s leading teaching and research universities. Founded by Royal Charter in 1883, the University today combines impressive modern facilities and a dynamic approach to teaching and research. The University’s breadth of expertise in research and research-led teaching encompasses: the humanities; the natural, physical, health, life and social sciences; engineering and technology; preparation for a wide range of professions; and a longstanding commitment to lifelong learning. Cardiff is a memberof the Russell Group of the UK’s leading research universities.

Visit the University website at: www.cardiff.ac.uk

3. Picture available on request

Further Information:

Professor Bruford is currently out of the country. Please contact the Public Relations Office for more information:

Victoria Dando
Public Relations Office
Tel: 029 2087 9074
Email: DandoV2@cardiff.ac.uk