• Influence of season and social context on male giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) vocal behaviour

      Charlton, Benjamin D.; Owen, Megan A.; Zhou, Xiaoping; Zhang, Hemin; Swaisgood, Ronald R. (2019)
      Documenting the different social and behavioural contexts that vocalisations are produced in remains an important step towards understanding the functional relevance of specific call types in a given species’ vocal repertoire. In this study we investigated whether seasonal differences and the presence or absence of male and female conspecifics influence the production of male giant panda vocal signals. To this end, captive male giant pandas were observed during and outside of the breeding season in three social contexts: only male conspecific neighbours, only female conspecific neighbours, and a context with no neighbours. We found that males were more likely to bleat, chirp, honk and moan during the breeding season, and showed a tendency to growl more outside of the reproductive period. The contextual analysis revealed that bleats were more likely to be produced by males when opposite-sexed conspecifics are in close attendance during the breeding season. Conversely, males were more likely to chirp when neighboured by males than females or no neighbours. In addition, males were more likely to honk in the absence of neighbouring conspecifics during the breeding season, raising the possibility that these calls function to signal location and gain the attention of potential mates. Moans were produced more often when male giant pandas had male than female neighbours during the breeding season, which may reflect mild aggression towards these same-sexed rivals, whereas the production of barks and growls did not vary according to season or the sex of conspecific neighbours. Our findings underscore the importance of male giant panda bleats for coordinating reproduction and promoting contact with potential mating partners in this non-gregarious species, and yield fresh insights into the function of male honks that warrant further investigation. They also provide a basis for comparison with free-ranging giant panda vocal behaviour that could potentially inform conservation efforts.
    • Movement-based estimation and visualization of space use in 3D for wildlife ecology and conservation

      Tracey, Jeff A.; Sheppard, James; Zhu, Jun; Wei, Fuwen; Swaisgood, Ronald R.; Fisher, Robert N.; Sueur, Cédric; Sueur, Cédric (2014)
      Advances in digital biotelemetry technologies are enabling the collection of bigger and more accurate data on the movements of free-ranging wildlife in space and time. Although many biotelemetry devices record 3D location data with x, y, and z coordinates from tracked animals, the third z coordinate is typically not integrated into studies of animal spatial use. Disregarding the vertical component may seriously limit understanding of animal habitat use and niche separation. We present novel movement-based kernel density estimators and computer visualization tools for generating and exploring 3D home ranges based on location data. We use case studies of three wildlife species – giant panda, dugong, and California condor – to demonstrate the ecological insights and conservation management benefits provided by 3D home range estimation and visualization for terrestrial, aquatic, and avian wildlife research.
    • Panda downlisted but not out of the woods

      Swaisgood, Ronald R.; Wang, Dajun; Wei, Fuwen (2018)
      The giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) is no longer Endangered on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) storied Red List. The decision to downlist the panda to Vulnerable has its foundation in a systematic assessment of population parameters as determined by China State Forestry Administration's circa decadal national survey and other scientific outputs, compared to standardized criteria used by IUCN to determine the status of all species. This decision has not been without controversy and disagreement, perhaps reflecting disparities between how people view the term “Endangered” and the criteria established by the IUCN. Here, we explore the architecture of recovery of this iconic “Endangered” species, make transparent the process of the IUCN downlisting decision, evaluate emerging threats to pandas on the horizon, and contemplate the meaning of this milestone for endangered species conservation. Through this revelation, we find profound reasons for hope for species conservation everywhere, and a useful example of success in the making. However, this positive message comes with measured caution. The Chinese government and conservation community must maintain its focus and investment on panda conservation, and contend with strategies to address new threats. If they do not, the panda will return to “Endangered” status once again.
    • Progress in the ecology and conservation of giant pandas

      Wei, Fuwen; Swaisgood, Ronald R.; Hu, Yibo; Nie, Yonggang; Yan, Li; Zhang, Zejun; Qi, Dunwu; Zhu, Lifeng (2015)
      Giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) conservation is a possible success story in the making. If extinction of this iconic endangered species can be avoided, the species will become a showcase program for the Chinese government and its collaborators. We reviewed the major advancements in ecological science for the giant panda, examining how these advancements have contributed to panda conservation….
    • Scent anointing in mammals: functional and motivational insights from giant pandas

      Charlton, Benjamin D.; Owen, Megan A.; Zhang, H.; Swaisgood, Ronald R. (2020)
      Although several mammals impregnate their fur with environmental odors, a phenomenon termed scent anointing or rubbing, the functional relevance of this behavior often is unclear. One theory is that scent anointing could be a form of scent matching with environmental odors to signal competitiveness and home range occupation....
    • Seasonal and reproductive variation in chemical constituents of scent signals in wild giant pandas

      Zhou, Wenliang; Nie, Yonggang; Hu, Yibo; Swaisgood, Ronald R.; Zhang, Yaohua; Liu, Dingzhen; Wei, Fuwen (2019)
      Seasonally reproducing animals show many behavioral and physiological changes during the mating period, including increased signaling for intrasexual competition and mate attraction. We collected 102 anogenital gland secretions (AGS) from marking trees in Foping Nature Reserve, and used gas chromatography mass spectrometry analyze these chemical composition....
    • Signalling behaviour is influenced by transient social context in a spontaneously ovulating mammal

      Owen, Megan A.; Swaisgood, Ronald R.; Zhou, Xiaoping; Blumstein, Daniel T. (2016)
      ...Using female giant pandas at the Wolong Breeding Centre in Sichuan, China, we explored the interaction between social context and reproductive status on signalling and maintenance behaviours. To do so, we used linear mixed models and an information-theoretic approach to assess the temporal relationship between signalling behaviours and the timing of first mating....
    • Stereotypic behaviour predicts reproductive performance and litter sex ratio in giant pandas

      Martin, Meghan S.; Owen, Megan A.; Wintle, Nathan J. P.; Zhang, Guiquan; Zhang, Hemin; Swaisgood, Ronald R. (2020)
      Breeding and welfare problems confront many conservation breeding programs. Stereotypies—repetitive, unvarying, functionless behaviours —are common abnormal behaviours that often arise in suboptimal conditions. While the role of stereotypies in welfare assessment is well studied, few investigations address the relationship between stereotypic behaviour and reproduction. We examined the correlation between stereotypic behaviour and reproductive performance in 101 giant pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca). High stereotyping males copulated more and produced more cubs, suggesting that highly sexually motivated males were prone to stereotypy but also had high reproductive competence. Female stereotypies were negatively associated with all reproductive measures closely tied to behavioural competence: high stereotyping females were less likely to copulate, less likely to mother-rear cubs, and—probably a result of poor maternal care—had lower cub survival. However, females that exhibited stereotypies were more likely to produce a cub, suggesting stereotypies are tied to behavioural but not physiological competence. High stereotyping female pandas also displayed strong and consistent bias toward production of female offspring while paternal relationship to sex allocation was the reverse. These results are consistent with stress-mediated sex allocation theory. Our findings raise concern about differential reproductive success among high and low stereotyping pandas, and possible genetic adaptation to captivity.
    • The acoustic structure of male giant panda bleats varies according to intersexual context

      Charlton, Benjamin D.; Keating, Jennifer L.; Rengui, Li; Huang, Yan; Swaisgood, Ronald R. (2015)
      ...These results show that acoustic features of male giant panda bleats have the potential to signal the caller's motivational state, and suggest that males increase the rate of fundamental frequency modulation in bleats when they are alone to maximally broadcast their quality and promote close-range contact with receptive females during the breeding season...
    • The influence of social context on animal behavior: Implications for conservation

      Owen, Megan A. (University of California, Los Angeles.Los Angeles, 2014)
      The pervasive perturbation of natural systems by human activities has rapidly changed the social context of many free-ranging animals, potentially reducing the efficiency of reproductive strategies, as well as the effective population size (Ne). Behavioral flexibility can be beneficial to species confronted with rapid contextual change, and the range of flexibility may ultimately influence whether a species can buy the time needed to respond adaptively to change. From the perspective of conservation management, an understanding of species' behavioral flexibility may improve predictions regarding the effects of rapid environmental change on populations, and facilitate the application of behavioral knowledge to conservation management. Fundamentally, an animal's decision-making processes are responsible for generating flexible behavioral responses, thus the lability of mechanisms underpinning decision-making influences the flexibility of behavioral responses. Here I evaluate the study of animal decision-making across scientific disciplines. I critically assess the use of animal decision-making in conservation and suggest ways in which decision theory could enhance conservation strategies. My empirical research is focused on the influence of social context on behavioral flexibility in the endangered giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca). The panda is a compelling species in which to study behavioral flexibility in the conservation context, because they are solitary, and females are seasonally-monoestrus and ovulate spontaneously. While energetic constraints play a prominent role in reproductive strategies, little is known regarding their mating system or the plasticity of reproductive behavior. Pandas are behaviorally expressive, using multiple modes of signaling during courtship, however, a holistic understanding of multimodal signaling in the species is lacking. Further, although populations are depleted throughout most of their range, the influence of social context on behavior and communication has not been described. Here we show that female signaling effort is generally lower in the exclusive presence of other females, suggesting that females can modify their behavioural efforts during the pre-ovulatory period according to the prevailing social context. We also found that multimodal signaling during social interactions did not consistently evoke an immediate, discrete response from receivers. Together these findings suggest that giant pandas demonstrate a limited degree of flexible behavioral responses dependent upon the prevailing social context.
    • The value of ecosystem services from giant panda reserves

      Wei, Fuwen; Costanza, Robert; Dai, Qiang; Stoeckl, Natalie; Gu, Xiaodong; Farber, Stephen; Nie, Yonggang; Kubiszewski, Ida; Hu, Yibo; Swaisgood, Ronald R.; et al. (2018)
      Ecosystem services (the benefits to humans from ecosystems) are estimated globally at $125 trillion/year [1, 2]. Similar assessments at national and regional scales show how these services support our lives [3]. All valuations recognize the role of biodiversity, which continues to decrease around the world in maintaining these services [4, 5]....
    • Use of urinary 13,14, dihydro-15-keto-prostaglandin F2α (PGFM) concentrations to diagnose pregnancy and predict parturition in the giant panda (Ailuropoda melanolecua)

      Roberts, Beth M.; Brown, Janine L.; Kersey, David C.; Snyder, Rebecca J.; Durrant, Barbara S.; Kouba, Andrew J. (2018)
      Pregnancy determination is difficult in the giant panda (Ailuropoda melanolecua), representing a challenge for ex situ conservation efforts. Research in other species experiencing pseudopregnancy indicates that urinary/fecal concentrations of 13,14, dihydro-15-keto-prostaglandin F2α (PGFM) can accurately determine pregnancy status. Our objective was to determine if urinary PGFM concentrations are associated with pregnancy status in the giant panda....
    • Vocal behaviour predicts mating success in giant pandas

      Charlton, Benjamin D.; Martin-Wintle, Meghan S.; Owen, Megan A.; Zhang, Hemin; Swaisgood, Ronald R. (2018)
      Surprisingly little is known about how mammal vocal signals are used to achieve behavioural synchrony in the lead up to copulation. The ability to signal short-term fluctuations in arousal levels and behavioural intention is likely to be particularly important for synchronizing mating behaviour in asocial species, which must overcome their natural avoidance and aggressive tendencies to mate. Here, we examined vocal behaviour during breeding encounters in captive giant pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) to gain a greater understanding of how close-range vocal signalling mediates reproduction in this asocial, and conservation-dependent species. Our results revealed that the occurrence of different giant panda vocalizations and acoustic variation within these calls is predictive of successful encounters leading to copulation, as opposed to unsuccessful encounters that do not. In addition, key differences were detected between vocalizations produced during and just prior to copulation. These findings illustrate that vocal exchanges are crucial for achieving behavioural synchrony and signalling intention to mate in giant pandas, and could also provide a valuable tool for breeding programmes, helping conservation managers to assess the likelihood of breeding introductions leading to copulation or potentially injurious failure.
    • Withered on the stem: is bamboo a seasonally limiting resource for giant pandas?

      Li, Youxu; Swaisgood, Ronald R.; Wei, Wei; Nie, Yonggang; Hu, Yibo; Yang, Xuyu; Gu, Xiaodong; Zhang, Zejun (2017)
      In response to seasonal variation in quality and quantity of available plant biomass, herbivorous foragers may alternate among different plant resources to meet nutritional requirements. Giant pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) are reliant almost exclusively on bamboo which appears omnipresent in most occupied habitat, but subtle temporal variation in bamboo quality may still govern foraging strategies, with population-level effects....