• Acoustic recordings provide detailed information regarding the behavior of cryptic wildlife to support conservation translocations

      Yan, Xiao; Zhang, Hemin; Li, Desheng; Wu, Daifu; Zhou, Shiqiang; Sun, Mengmeng; Hu, Haiping; Liu, Xiaoqiang; Mou, Shijie; He, Shengshan; et al. (2019)
      For translocated animals, behavioral competence may be key to post-release survival. However, monitoring behavior is typically limited to tracking movements or inferring behavior at a gross scale via collar-mounted sensors. Animal-bourne acoustic monitoring may provide a unique opportunity to monitor behavior at a finer scale. The giant panda is an elusive species of Ursid that is vulnerable to extinction. Translocation is an important aspect of the species’ recovery, and survival and recruitment for pandas likely hinge on behavioral competence. Here we tested the efficacy of a collar-mounted acoustic recording unit (ARU) to remotely monitor the behavior of panda mothers and their dependent young. We found that trained human listeners could reliably identify 10 behaviors from acoustic recordings. Through visual inspection of spectrograms we further identified 5 behavioral categories that may be detectable by automated pattern recognition, an approach that is essential for the practical application of ARU. These results suggest that ARU are a viable method for remotely observing behaviors, including feeding. With targeted effort directed towards instrumentation and computing advances, ARU could be used to document how behavioral competence supports or challenges post-release survival and recruitment, and allow for research findings to be adaptively integrated into future translocation efforts.
    • Analyzing the past to understand the future: Natural mating yields better reproductive rates than artificial insemination in the giant panda

      Li, Disheng; Wintle, Nathan J. P.; Zhang, Guiquan; Wang, Chengdong; Luo, Bo; Martin-Wintle, Meghan S.; Owen, Megan A.; Swaisgood, Ronald R. (2017)
      ...Here we analyze 21 years (1996–2016) of giant panda reproductive data from 304 insemination events to determine relative success rates of insemination methods and evaluate management strategies. The birth rate after natural mating was 60.7%, 50.6% for combined natural mating and artificial insemination techniques, and 18.5% for artificial insemination (AI)....
    • Assessing the effectiveness of China’s panda protection system

      Wei, Wei; Swaisgood, Ronald R.; Pilfold, Nicholas W.; Owen, Megan A.; Dai, Qiang; Wei, Fuwen; Han, Han; Yang, Zhisong; Yang, Xuyu; Gu, Xiaodong; et al. (2020)
      ...Together these findings indicate that China’s panda reserves have been effective and that they are functioning better over time, conserving more and better habitats and containing more pandas. While China’s protected area system still has much room for improvement [4, 5], including to support pandas [16], these findings underscore the progress made in China’s nascent environmental movement.
    • Blood Lead Levels in Captive Giant Pandas

      Wintle, Nathan J. P.; Martin-Wintle, Meghan S.; Zhou, Xiaoping; Zhang, Hemin (2018)
      Fifteen giant pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) from the Chinese Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda (CCRCGP) in Bifengxia, Sichuan, China were analyzed for blood lead concentrations (Pb-B) during the 2017 breeding season. Thirteen of the 15 bears showed Pb-B below the method detection limit (MDL) of 3.3 µg/dL....
    • Climate change and landscape-use patterns influence recent past distribution of giant pandas

      Tang, Junfeng; Swaisgood, Ronald R.; Owen, Megan A.; Zhao, Xuzhe; Wei, Wei; Pilfold, Nicholas W.; Wei, Fuwen; Yang, Xuyu; Gu, Xiaodong; Yang, Zhisong; et al. (The Royal Society, 2020)
      Climate change is one of the most pervasive threats to biodiversity globally, yet the influence of climate relative to other drivers of species depletion and range contraction remain difficult to disentangle.... We conclude that the panda's distribution has been influenced by changing climate, but conservation intervention to manage habitat is working to increasingly offset these negative consequences.
    • Climate change and landscape-use patterns influence recent past distribution of giant pandas

      Tang, Junfeng; Swaisgood, Ronald R.; Owen, Megan A.; Zhao, Xuzhe; Wei, Wei; Pilfold, Nicholas W.; Wei, Fuwen; Yang, Xuyu; Gu, Xiaodong; Yang, Zhisong; et al. (2020)
      Climate change is one of the most pervasive threats to biodiversity globally, yet the influence of climate relative to other drivers of species depletion and range contraction remain difficult to disentangle. Here, we examine climatic and non-climatic correlates of giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) distribution using a large-scale 30 year dataset to evaluate whether a changing climate has already influenced panda distribution. We document several climatic patterns, including increasing temperatures, and alterations to seasonal temperature and precipitation. We found that while climatic factors were the most influential predictors of panda distribution, their importance diminished over time, while landscape variables have become relatively more influential. We conclude that the panda's distribution has been influenced by changing climate, but conservation intervention to manage habitat is working to increasingly offset these negative consequences.
    • Comprehensive breeding techniques for the giant panda

      Martin-Wintle, Meghan S.; Kersey, David C.; Wintle, Nathan J. P.; Aitken-Palmer, Copper; Owen, Megan A.; Swaisgood, Ronald R.; Comizzoli, Pierre; Brown, Janine L.; Holt, William V. (Springer International PublishingCham, 2019)
      The dramatic growth of the captive giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) population exemplifies how the application of scientific findings to animal care and reproductive management can improve conservation breeding outcomes. Detailed behavioral studies of giant panda estrus, pregnancy and cub rearing have demonstrated the importance of husbandry management that supports natural reproductive behavior to enhance breeding success....
    • Do opposites attract? Effects of personality matching in breeding pairs of captive giant pandas on reproductive success

      Martin-Wintle, Meghan S.; Shepherdson, David; Zhang, Guiquan; Huang, Yan; Luo, Bo; Swaisgood, Ronald R. (2017)
      Successful and cost-effective conservation breeding programs rely largely on animals doing what should come naturally: mate & reproduce. Behavioral management, especially that targeting mate compatibility and choice, will be important to achieve breeding goals efficiently. The endangered giant panda, Ailuropoda melanoleuca, was once notorious for its poor reproductive performance in captivity. Although the panda breeding program has experienced great improvement in recent years, we hypothesized that a better understanding of the role personality traits play in mating behavior could further improve reproductive performance. We used animal caretaker surveys and novel object tests to characterize pandas according to several personality traits—including exploratory, aggressiveness, excitability, fearfulness, and general activity—and tested how variation in these traits influenced mate compatibility and offspring production. Our findings indicate that specific combinations of personality traits showed better reproductive performance than others. Sometimes personality trait similarity enhanced reproduction and sometimes it impaired reproduction, depending on the trait. For example, Excitable males paired with Low-Excitable females had better reproductive outcomes, but pairs with Low-Fearful males regardless of the female's Fearfulness performed better. Males that were more Aggressive than their female partner were more likely to mate and produce cubs than when the female had a higher level of Aggressiveness than the male. Applying these results to breeding management strategies should result in higher reproductive rates and the production of more candidates for China's panda reintroduction program. These results highlight the potential importance of associative mating patterns based on personality for conservation breeding programs for a large number of other species.
    • Dynamics of male-female multimodal signaling behavior across the estrous cycle in giant pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca)

      Owen, Megan A.; Swaisgood, Ronald R.; McGeehan, L.; Zhou, X.; Lindburg, Donald G. (2013)
      Giant panda courtship behavior includes multimodal signaling assemblages consisting of olfactory, vocal, and postural elements. While signaling is generally conspicuous, successful copulation is inconsistently achieved in captivity, even when female behavioral and physiological data indicate that ovulation is imminent. We set out to characterize these complex patterns of social behavior by observing interactions between 26 unique pairs of giant pandas housed in adjoining pens throughout the females' reproductive cycle....
    • Dynamics of male-female multimodal signaling behavior across the estrous cycle in giant pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca)

      Owen, Megan A.; Swaisgood, Ronald R.; McGeehan, Laura; Zhou, Xiaoping; Lindburg, Donald G.; Koenig, W. (2013)
      Giant panda courtship behavior includes multimodal signaling assemblages consisting of olfactory, vocal, and postural elements. While signaling is generally conspicuous, successful copulation is inconsistently achieved in captivity, even when female behavioral and physiological data indicate that ovulation is imminent. We set out to characterize these complex patterns of social behavior by observing interactions between 26 unique pairs of giant pandas housed in adjoining pens throughout the females' reproductive cycle….
    • Ecological context influences scent-marking behavior in the giant panda

      Zhou, W.; Nie, Y.; Swaisgood, Ronald R.; Li, Y.; Liu, D.; Wei, F. (2019)
      Signal detection theory predicts that animals should select scent-marking sites in a way that maximizes their probability of detection by target receivers. Many studies have been conducted with a focus on signaling behavior and function....
    • Ecological scale and seasonal heterogeneity in the spatial behaviors of giant pandas

      Zhang, Zejun; Sheppard, James; Swaisgood, Ronald R.; Wang, Guan; Nie, Yonggang; Wei, Wei; Zhao, Naxun; Wei, Fuwen (2014)
      We report on the first study to track the spatial behaviors of wild giant pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca ) using high‐resolution global positioning system (GPS) telemetry.... Despite a high degree of spatial overlap between panda home ranges, particularly in winter, we detected neither avoidance nor attraction behavior between conspecifics.
    • Everything you want to know about the giant panda

      Swaisgood, Ronald R. (2015)
      Book review of Pan, Wenshi, Lu Zhi, Zhu Xiaojian, Wang Dajun, Wang Hao, Long Yu, Fu Dali, and Zhou Xin. 2014 (Chinese edition, 2001). A chance for lasting survival: ecology and behavior of wild giant pandas. Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press, Washington, D.C. xx þ 349 p. $39.95, ISBN: 978-1-935623-17-5 (alk. paper).
    • Free mate choice enhances conservation breeding in the endangered giant panda

      Martin-Wintle, Meghan S.; Shepherdson, David; Zhang, Guiquan; Zhang, Hemin; Li, Desheng; Zhou, Xiaoping; Li, Rengui; Swaisgood, Ronald R. (2015)
      Conservation breeding programmes have become an increasingly important tool to save endangered species, yet despite the allocation of significant resources, efforts to create self-sustaining populations have met with limited success. The iconic giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) embodies the struggles associated with ex situ species conservation. Here we show that behavioural mate preferences in giant pandas predict reproductive outcomes. Giant pandas paired with preferred partners have significantly higher copulation and birth rates. Reproductive rates increase further when both partners show mutual preference for one another. If managers were to incorporate mate preferences more fully into breeding management, the production of giant panda offspring for China’s reintroduction programme might be greatly expedited. When extended to the increasing numbers of species dependent on ex situ conservation breeding to avoid extinction, our findings highlight that mate preference and other aspects of informed behavioural management could make the difference between success and failure of these programmes.
    • Giant panda distributional and habitat-use shifts in a changing landscape

      Wei, Wei; Swaisgood, Ronald R.; Dai, Qiang; Yang, Zhisong; Yuan, Shibin; Owen, Megan A.; Pilfold, Nicholas W.; Yang, Xuyu; Gu, Xiaodong; Zhou, Hong; et al. (2018)
      Long‐term data on populations, threats, and habitat‐use changes are fundamentally important for conservation policy and management decisions affecting species, but these data are often in short supply. Here, we analyze survey data from 57,087 plots collected in approximately three‐fourths of the giant panda's (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) distributional range during China's national surveys conducted in 1999–2003 and 2011–2014. Pandas associated preferentially with several ecological factors and avoided areas impacted by human activities, such as roads, livestock, mining, and tourism. Promise is shown by dramatic declines in logging rates, but is counterbalanced with recently emerging threats. Pandas have increasingly utilized secondary forest as these forests recovered under protective measures. Pandas have undergone a distributional shift to higher elevations, despite the elevational stability of their bamboo food source, perhaps in response to a similar upward shift in the distribution of livestock. Our findings showcase robust on‐the‐ground data from one of the largest‐scale survey efforts worldwide for an endangered species and highlight how science and policy have contributed to this remarkable success story, and help frame future management strategies.
    • Giant pandas a beacon for hope at World Conservation Congress

      Garshelis, Dave; Swaisgood, Ronald R.; Dajun Wang; Steinmetz, Rob (2016)
    • Giant pandas use odor cues to discriminate kin from nonkin

      Gilad, Oranit; Swaisgood, Ronald R.; Owen, Megan A.; Zhou, Xiaoping (2016)
      Sociality is an important factor in both the mechanism and function of kin recognition, yet it is little explored in solitary species. While there may be future opportunities for nepotistic functions of kin discrimination among solitary species, the ability to discriminate kin from nonkin may still have important roles in social regulation. The solitary giant panda Ailuropoda melanoleuca offers a good model system to explore kin discrimination in a solitary mammal. As kin discrimination in many other mammals is olfactorily mediated, we investigated whether giant pandas are able to discriminate odor cues from daughters even after months and years of separation. Our results indicate that giant pandas are capable of discriminating between kin and nonkin using odor cues available in urine and body odor. Daughters preferentially investigated the odors of unrelated adult female pandas over the odors of their mothers, and mothers spent more time investigating the odors of unrelated age-matched female pandas over those from their daughters. Because these studies were conducted months or years after the mother–daughter period of dependency ended, it is still unclear what mechanism is used for recognition. Long-term olfactory memories and phenotype matching should both be considered, and further studies are required for such determination.
    • Hearing sensitivity in context: Conservation implications for a highly vocal endangered species

      Owen, Megan A.; Keating, Jennifer L.; Denes, Samuel K.; Hawk, Kathy; Fiore, Angela; Thatcher, Julie; Becerra, Jennifer; Hall, Suzanne; Swaisgood, Ronald R. (2016)
      Hearing sensitivity is a fundamental determinant of a species’ vulnerability to anthropogenic noise, however little is known about the hearing capacities of most conservation dependent species. When audiometric data are integrated with other aspects of species’ acoustic ecology, life history, and characteristic habitat topography and soundscape, predictions can be made regarding probable vulnerability to the negative impacts of different types of anthropogenic noise. Here we used an adaptive psychoacoustic technique to measure hearing thresholds in the endangered giant panda; a species that uses acoustic communication to coordinate reproduction. Our results suggest that giant pandas have functional hearing into the ultrasonic range, with good sensitivity between 10.0 and 16.0 kHz, and best sensitivity measured at 12.5–14.0 kHz. We estimated the lower and upper limits of functional hearing as 0.10 and 70.0 kHz respectively. While these results suggest that panda hearing is similar to that of some other terrestrial carnivores, panda hearing thresholds above 14.0 kHz were significantly lower (i.e., more sensitive) than those of the polar bear, the only other bear species for which data are available. We discuss the implications of this divergence, as well as the relationship between hearing sensitivity and the spectral parameters of panda vocalizations. We suggest that these data, placed in context, can be used towards the development of a sensory-based model of noise disturbance for the species.
    • Inbreeding and inbreeding avoidance in wild giant pandas

      Hu, Yibo; Nie, Yonggang; Wei, Wei; Ma, Tianxiao; Van Horn, Russell C.; Zheng, Xiaoguang; Swaisgood, Ronald R.; Zhou, Zhixin; Zhou, Wenliang; Yan, Li; et al. (2017)
      Inbreeding can have negative consequences on population and individual fitness, which could be counteracted by inbreeding avoidance mechanisms. However, the inbreeding risk and inbreeding avoidance mechanisms in endangered species are less studied....
    • Individual identification of wild giant pandas from camera trap photos – a systematic and hierarchical approach

      Zheng, X.; Owen, Megan A.; Nie, Y.; Hu, Y.; Swaisgood, Ronald R.; Yan, L.; Wei, F. (2016)
      ...Here we tested the utility of an approach to individually identify wild giant pandas Ailuropoda melanoleuca from camera trap images, by cataloguing and careful scrutiny of numerous traits. We developed our identification strategy first by analyzing images of known (captive) individuals (N = 7). We then deployed camera traps at 23 control sites and at seven camera trap arrays ‘baited’ with conspecific decoys, in Foping Nature Reserve, China….