Scientists have claimed that due to the impact of geological disasters and climate change, an average of 75 species become extinct every day in the world, and 3 species become extinct every hour. Will wild pandas eventually disappear from the Earth?
Giant panda scientists also care about this issue.
Some experts believe that with global warming, bamboo, the staple food of wild pandas, will become extinct, so pandas will eventually disappear.
Some experts disagree, and fecal DNA confirms that pandas still have potentials for further evolutions, and it is too early to worry about the extinction of pandas.
Although there are only more than 1,800 wild pandas, they are not losers in the history of evolution.
After testing their blood and other cells, and comparing it with ordinary bears, the scientists concluded that pandas are indeed a type of bears.
Scientists believe that the first panda, bear, and raccoon have a common ancestor, and it was an animal that lived 26 million to 40 million years ago. This animal is called “the first bear”.
The first bears lived in the early and early Miocene, when the fifth species extinction had raged on the Earth for about 40 million years, and the dinosaurs that ruled the earth for 160 million years became extinct during this period.
Geological disasters and climate changes were the main causes of the first five species extinctions.
Under the natural selection and survival of the fittest, the first bears survived the evolution.
About 12 million years ago, in the late Miocene, the first bears were differentiated into the first bears, the first pandas and the early red pandas. The other branch was evolved into a half bear.
Later, raccoons and red pandas evolved in one direction, while early pandas and bears evolved in the other direction.
Later, the evolution of early pandas parted ways with bears and they evolved separately. It can be concluded with certainty that the food of the early pandas was mainly meat.
How did the first pandas became the first pandas step by step? This is still unknown.
In 1978, the Institute of Palaeontology and Paleoanthropology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences unearthed the fossil of first pandas in the Lufeng coal mine shaft in Yunnan.
After performing testing of geological years and research analysis of the fossils of Lufeng first panda, scientists have concluded that the ancestor of the modern giant panda, the “early panda”, appeared on Earth and lived in Yunnan in the late Miocene , which is 8 million years ago. They lived on the edge of a tropical wet forest in Lufeng and other places.
During the observation of the 3D restoration map of the fossils of Lufeng first pandas, we can see that first pandas weren’t big at that time, they were only the size of a fat fox.
Following the appearance of the first pandas of Lufeng, in 1987, fossils of first pandas in Yuanmou Basin of Yunnan Province were found in small rivers and bamboo sheds.
According to the research, first pandas in Yuanmou lived 7 million years ago, earlier than the appearance of Lufeng first pandas.
During the evolution, the descendants of the first pandas were developed into two branches, one branch was called the Ge’s suburban panda, and the main branch was called the giant panda small species.
Through the study of fossils, it was found that the pandas in the Ge’s suburban pandas were distributed in the humid forests of present Hungary and France, and became extinct at the end of the Miocene.
This is why the origin of pandas is often a controversial topic.
For example, in 2017, Canadian and French scientists published an article in the journal “Geobios”, stating that they had found a group of 10 million year-old tooth fossils in the town of Rudaobagno in Hungary. It belongs to the ancient panda, which confirms the theory of pandas’ European origin.
The excavation of fossils proves that wild pandas have also lived in continental Europe, but there have been no panda habitats for millions of years after the end of the Miocene.
On June 18, 2007, Chinese and American scientists released a research report, stating that a year and a half ago, researchers had excavated the skull fossils of “small panda species” for the first time at a karst geological archeological site in Southern China.
After measurement and analysis, the small species of giant pandas lived at the beginning of the Pleistocene about 2 million years ago. It is a branch that evolved from the first panda after about 6 million years. It is about 0.9 meters in length and looks like a fat fog. They are about half smaller than modern giant pandas and can be called the “little ancestors” of giant pandas.
It is speculated from the fossil teeth of the giant panda small species that it has evolved into a omnivorous animal that eats bamboo as well. The living area has begun to extend into subtropical humid forests and has replaced the first pandas, widely distributed in Yunnan, Guangxi and Sichuan.
In recent years, fossils of the giant panda small species have been found in Liucheng, Guangxi, Luoding, Guangdong, Wushan County, Sichuan, Yang County, Shaanxi, and Yuanmou, Yunnan.
After more than one million years of evolution and further adaptation to subtropical bamboo forest life, the body size of the giant panda small species has gradually increased, and the Ailuropoda melanoleuca baconi is a subspecies out of its evolution.
Scientists analyzed the fossils and found that the Ailuropoda melanoleuca baconi is larger and thicker than modern giant pandas, they’re about 2 meters long, with a short skull, a short snout, a thick trunk and strong limbs.
The Ailuropoda melanoleuca baconi is gradually formed by some small pandas getting new adaptations under new conditions. Its body size is about twice that of the giant panda species.
In the middle to late Pleistocene period of 700,000 years, the evolution of giant pandas have reached their peak period, and their distribution range and population reached unprecedented prosperity.
They are widely distributed in 16 provinces and cities, across Beijing Zhoukoudian, Shaanxi, Shanxi, Henan, Anhui, Zhejiang, Jiangxi, Fujian , Taiwan, had also reached the record high, they were evenly distributed in Guangdong, Guangxi, Hunan, Hubei, Guizhou, Sichuan, Yunnan, Vietnam and northern Myanmar.
According to the statistics, more than 80% of the giant panda fossils that have been found are Ailuropoda melanoleuca baconi.
However, since the middle of the Pleistocene 700,000 years ago, the natural environment of the northern subtropics has undergone drastic changes, and the climate has alternated between cold and warm. This is another era of great extinction of species.
Affected by Quaternary glaciers, the companion animals such as giant pandas, saber-toothed tigers and saber-toothed elephants gradually faded and died; although the giant pandas have escaped the calamity of an severe environment and climate change, their evolutionary history also entered a period of decline – giant pandas above Qinling disappeared, and the habitat of giant pandas below the Qinling Mountains also suddenly decreased in number.
In the late Pleistocene, the living species of giant pandas were mainly residing in the deep alpine valleys on the eastern edge of the Qinghai – Tibet Plateau. They were about one-eighth smaller than Ailuropoda melanoleuca baconi and rely on bamboo for their nutrients.
In the “hearth” of Chongqing, scientists found a giant panda’s skeleton of 6000 years ago. They believe that because of the climate getting warmer, the growth area of the giant panda’s main food, Cold Arrow Bamboo, has gradually decreased, and today’s species of giant pandas have gradually migrated to dense bamboo forests at an altitude of 2600-3500 meters in the alpine gorge area on the eastern foot of the Tibetan Plateau. The air there is thin all year round, and it’s always cloudy. The temperature is usually below 20 ° C.
Even by the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, the species of giant pandas of today were still distributed in the mountains of seven or eight counties on the borders of the three provinces of Hubei, Hunan, and Sichuan, such as Zhushan, Badong, Zigui, and Changyang in Hubei. They had gone extinct in the Qing Dynasty, during the Guangxu era.
In February 2015, the results of the fourth national panda survey released by the State Forestry Administration showed that at the end of 2013, there were 1,864 wild pandas distributed in 17 cities (states) of Sichuan, Shaanxi, and Gansu and 49 counties (cities, districts), 196 towns and villages, with a total of 2.58 million hectares of giant panda habitat, 910,000 hectares of potential habitat.
Compared with the results of the third national giant panda survey, the number of wild giant pandas has increased by more than 260 now than 10 years ago, there were 4 more counties and 2 more towns where wild pandas were distributed.
However, compared with the results of the first national survey of giant pandas in the 1970s, the number of wild giant pandas has now reduced by more than 590 than 40 years ago, and the number of wild giant pandas in the counties has decreased by 2.
In addition to geological and climate changes, the most important reason for the dynamic changes in the number of wild pandas during this period is the disturbance of large-scale human activities such as deforestation.
Throughout the evolution history of more than 20 million years, we have to admit that giant pandas have tenacious vitality and are the winners of species evolution. Every time a geological disaster or extreme climate occur, pandas managed to survive.
It can be concluded that giant pandas have a strong ability to adapt and evolve, and it’s still too early to say that they’ll go extinct.