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Haemig PD  (2012 Sympatric Giant Panda and Red Panda.  ECOLOGY.INFO 4

Sympatric Giant Panda and Red Panda

Note: This online review is updated and revised continuously, as soon as results of new scientific research become available.  It therefore presents state-of-the-art information on the topic it covers.

The Giant Panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) and Red Panda (Ailurus fulgens) are vegetarian Carnivora that specialize in eating bamboo.  The two species differ greatly in size: the larger Giant Panda weighs 65-110 kilograms while the Red Panda weighs 3.7-6.2 kilograms (Johnson et al. 1988; Roberts and Gittleman 1984).  In the photographs above, the Giant Panda is shown in the upper left corner, while the Red Panda is shown in the lower right corner.

Although both pandas are native to Asia, their ranges are mostly separate.  The two species occur together only in Sichuan Province, China, in the following 4 mountain ranges: Liangshan, Qionglai, Minshan and Xiangling (Wei et al 2000).  In these mountains, the Giant Panda and Red Panda share the same habitats and bamboo plants.

Ecologists use the word sympatry to describe the situation where 2 species occur in the same area.   The word allopatry is used to describe the opposite situation: where 2 species occur in separate geographic areas.  In this paper, we review studies of sympatric Giant Panda and Red Panda in Sichuan Province, China, and summarize the ecological differences between these two bamboo-specialists.

Dietary separation

Both pandas feed mainly on bamboo the entire year.  Occasionally they will sample other foods, but bamboo comprises 99% of the diet of the Giant Panda, and 98% of the diet of the Red Panda (Wei et al. 1999).  From midsummer to October, the Red Panda differs from the Giant Panda in that it adds a variety of arboreal fruits to its diet, including Prunus, Rubus, Rosa, Sorbus, Ribes, and Sabina squamata, a fir  (Wei et al. 1999).  

Both pandas feed on the same species of bamboo, but specialize in eating different parts of the bamboo plant.  The Giant Panda feeds more frequently on bamboo stems, while the Red Panda feeds more frequently on bamboo leaves (Johnson et al. 1988; Wei et al. 1999).  For example, in the Xiangling Mountains, Wei et al. (1999) found the following bamboo parts in the annual diets of the two pandas:  Red Panda (90% leaves, 9% shoots), Giant Panda (55% stems, 35% leaves, 10% shoots).

The mandibles of the Giant Panda are more strongly developed than those of the Red Panda, which is correlated with the dietary differences mentioned in the preceding paragraph.  Because the Red Panda specializes in eating bamboo leaves, it does not need the stronger mandibles of the stem and shoot-eating Giant Panda (Zhang et al. 2007).

Microhabitat separation

Compared to the Giant Panda, the Red Panda frequents microhabitats with higher densities of shrubs, fallen logs and tree stumps (Wei et al. 2000; Zhang et al. 2004).  The Red Panda climbs up on these structures to reach high-growing bamboo leaves, which it then nips off the stalks to eat (Johnson et al. 1988; Wei 1999; Zhang et al. 2004).

In contrast, the Giant Panda bites off whole stems from the bamboo plant, and then holds the stems to bite off the leaves (Wei et al. 1999).  It also bends growing bamboo stems over with a forepaw and crops leaves off the top (Johnson et al. 1988).  In microhabitats selected by Red Panda, the height of bamboo plants averages shorter than in microhabitats selected by Giant Panda, apparently because the foliage leaves of shorter bamboos are easier for the Red Panda to access (Zhang et al. 2004).

The Giant Panda frequents more level terrain, usually with a slope of less than 10-20% (Reid and Hu 1991; Wei et al. 1996, 2000; Zhang et al. 2006; Qi et al. 2009).  In contrast, the Red Panda frequents steeper slopes (Wei et al. 2000; Zhang et al. 2004; 2006; Qi et al. 2009). 

The association of the Red Panda with steeper slopes might be explained by its preference for sites with better access to higher-growing bamboo leaves.  Wei et al.  (2000) note that "on steeper slopes, rhododendrons have longer branches within the leaves of bamboo, and fallen logs are more likely to intersect the leaf layer," making it easier for the Red Panda to reach bamboo leaves.

However, other explanations are also possible.  For example, because the Red Panda is smaller than the Giant Panda, they might need the higher density of shrubs on steeper slopes to better hide from predators. 

On the other hand, some researchers believe that the Giant Panda's preference for gentler slopes is based on energy conservation. The Giant Panda's rate of energy intake is only marginally higher than its energy expenditure, so avoiding steep slopes helps it reduce using energy (Schaller et al. 1985; Zhang et al. 2004).

Roads

Giant Pandas visit roads more frequently than Red Pandas (Qi et al. 2009).  One possible explanation is that roads through wooded areas increase the amount of forest edge, which offers the Giant Panda more food than forest interiors because the Giant Panda prefers to forage on the edges of bamboo patches (Qi et al. 2003; Schaller et al. 1985; Yu et al. 2003).

References

Johnson KG, Schaller GB, Hu J  (1988)  Comparative behavior of Red and Giant Pandas in the Wolong Reserve, China.  Journal of Mammalogy 69: 552-564

Qi D, Hu Y, Gu X, Li M, Wei F  (2009)  Ecological niche modeling of the sympatric giant and red pandas on a mountain-range scale.  Biodiversity and Conservation 18: 2127-2141

Reid DG, Hu J  (1991)  Giant Panda selection between Bashania fangiana bamboo habitats in Wolong Reserve, Sichuan, China.  Journal of Applied Ecology 28: 28-43

Roberts M, Gittleman J  (1984)  Ailurus fulgensMammalian Species 222: 1-8

Schaller G, Hu J, Pan W, Zhu J  (1985)  The Giant Pandas of Wolong.  University of Chicago Press, USA

Wei F, Zhou C, Hu J, Yang G, Wang W  (1996)  Bamboo resources and food selection of Giant Pandas in Mabian Dafengding Natural Reserve.  Acta Theriologica Sinica 16: 171-175 (in Chinese)

Wei F, Feng Z, Wang Z, Li M  (1999)  Feeding strategy and resource partitioning between Giant and Red Pandas.  Mammalia 63: 417-429

Wei F, Feng Z, Wang Z, Hu J  (2000)  Habitat use and separation between the Giant Panda and the Red Panda.  Journal of Mammalogy 81: 448-455

Yu G, Zhang Z, Zhao Z, Wang B, Wang Y  (2003)  Giant Panda feeding: why do they prefer bamboo patch edges?  Journal of Zoology 259: 307-312

Zhang Z, Wei F, Li M, Zhang B, Liu X, Hu J  (2004)  Microhabitat separation during winter among sympatric giant pandas, red pandas, and tufted deer: the effects of diet, body size, and energy metabolism.  Canadian Journal of Zoology 82: 1451-1458

Zhang Z, Wei F, Li M, Hu J  (2006)  Winter microhabitat separation between giant and red pandas in Bashania faberi bamboo forest in Fengtongzhai Nature Reserve.  Journal of Wildlife Management 70: 231-235

Zhang S, Pan R, Li M, Oxnard C, Wei F  (2007)  Mandible of the giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) compared with other Chinese carnivores: functional adaptation.   Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 92: 449-456

Information about this Review

This review is also available in the following languages: 

Portuguese    Spanish

The author is:  Dr. Paul D. Haemig (PhD in Animal Ecology)

Photographers:  Winnie Lee (Canada) - Giant Panda;  Steve Mackins (UK) - Red Panda;  Tracy Zhang (USA) - bamboo forest;  Harpreet Padam (India) - Mountains.

The proper citation is:

Haemig PD   2012   Sympatric Giant Panda and Red Panda.  ECOLOGY.INFO 4.

If you are aware of any important scientific publications about sympatric Giant Panda and Red Panda that were omitted from this review, or if you have other suggestions for improving it, please contact the author at his e-mail address: 

director {at} ecology.info

© Copyright 2002-2012 Ecology Online Sweden.  All rights reserved.

 

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