Washington: Despite an increase in the number of giant pandas, their habitats still cover less area and are more fragmented than 29 years ago when the species was listed as endangered, a study has found.
The status of giant pandas were recently downgraded from 'endangered' to the less threatened 'vulnerable', based on the increasing numbers, by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Researchers, including those from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, studied how the panda's habitat changed over the last four decades.
They used geospatial technologies and remote sensing data to map recent land-use changes and the development of roads within the panda's habitat.
They used satellite imagery to examine changes across the panda's entire geographic range from 1976 to 2013.
"We found complex changes. Habitat decreased nearly five per cent from 1976 to 2001, but has increased since. However, the average size of the habitat patches decreased by 23 per cent from 1976 to 2001. It has increased only slightly since," said Weihua Xu, from the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
The study, published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, also examined the human and natural forces driving habitat loss in the panda's geographic range in 1996 and noted that some of the changes that have occurred in the region are encouraging.
"Banning commercial logging in natural forests, establishing nature reserves and helping residents in the reserve change behaviours that damaged habitat has been beneficial," said Jianguo Liu of Michigan State University in the US.
"But conservation is a dynamic process with humans and nature in a constant push and pull to survive and thrive, so new solutions always are in demand," Liu said.