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KIAS Scientist, Dr. Prakash K. Paudel and team find that red pandas have differentiated habitat selection pattern in Nepal Himalaya

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Forest with abundant bamboo is essential for red panda survival, yet red panda’s ability to survive in the forests growing climatically distinct zones of Himalaya (eastern Nepal, central Nepal and western Nepal) is not fully understood.

Now, research led by Nepali experts reveals a unique habitat selection pattern of red pandas that may have helped them to survive in the diverse bio-climatic zones. The research offers a critical insight into how habitat variables affects red panda distribution across different longitudinal gradients of Nepal Himalaya. The findings show that both canopy cover and species richness are unimportant in eastern Nepal, but their influence increase progressively toward the west. Contrarywise, there is a decreasing influence of tree height on habitat selection from Eastern to Western Nepal. These findings correspond to the bioclimatic regimes of eastern‐western Himalayan gradient. Such habitat selection pattern may be results of red pandas’ strategy to conserve energy and thermoregulate.

Red Panda Ailurus fulgens, a globally endangered species, is found in Nepal within a narrow attitudinal range (2100 m – 4100 m) in forests with abundant bamboo. Most of its core habitat falls outside of Nepal’s protected areas and remains under jurisdiction of Department of Forest and Soil Conservation. “Our results offer important insight into red panda conservation in Nepal”, said one of the main authors, Dr. Prakash K Paudel, Scientist, at Center for Conservation Biology, Kathmandu Institute of Applied Sciences. “Silviculture practices in the community forests promote certain species of high economic values, decimating both species diversity and canopy cover. This ultimately may lead empty forests, devoid of red pandas”, said Dr. Paudel in a cautious tone. Mr. Damber Bist at Red Panda Network, one of the main authors, added, “government needs to develop protected zones designed for red panda and protect connectivity among core habitats in the mid-hills of Nepal”.

Other researchers of this study include Dr. Shant Raj Jnawali, WWF Nepal, Mr. Ang Phuri Sherpa, Red Panda Network, Mr.  Saroj Shrestha, Red Panda Network and Dr.  Krishna Prasad Acharya, Ministry of Forest and Environment, Government of Nepal. The findings are published in an international journal, Ecology and Evolution, by British Ecological Society. The research article “Red panda fine‐scale habitat selection along a Central Himalayan longitudinal gradient” is available to view and download in the Wiley Online Library without subscription. Click here to view paper. 

Photo: [email protected] Panda Network