Reading: / Short Answer Questions / Part 9

You should spend about 20 minutes on Questions 1-5, which are based on Reading Passage below.


Despite giant pandas being the feature attraction of zoos around the world - bringing joy to millions of visitors each year - and despite the birth of a giant panda cub in captivity always being headline news, the survival of giant pandas in the wild is highly uncertain.

This charismatic and universally loved species is one of the rarest and most endangered bears in the world. It was once spread throughout China, northern Vietnam and northern Burma, but now the giant panda is found in the wild in just six isolated mountain ranges in Gansu, Shaanxi and Sichuan Provinces in south-central China. This distinctive black and white creature typically leads a solitary life. It is a good swimmer and an excellent tree climber, but it spends most of its time feeding.

Three-quarters of all wild giant pandas now live in nature reserves, but, despite this, they are still endangered. Nearly half of all wild giant pandas were lost between the early 1970’s and the late 1990’s, mainly owing to habitat destruction and poaching. Habitat loss and fragmentation are still the main threats today and this happens in a variety of ways. For example, roads and railways are increasingly cutting through the forest, which isolates giant panda populations and prevents them from breeding.

It is well known that the giant panda almost exclusively feeds on bamboo, in spite of its taxonomic classification as a meat-eater. Because of this, various scientists from Michigan State University have recently provided comprehensive forecasts of how changing climate may affect the most common species of bamboo that carpet the forest floors of prime giant panda habitat in north-western China. Even the most optimistic scenarios show that bamboo die-offs would effectively cause this giant panda habitat to become inhospitable by the end of the 21st century.

The scientists studied possible scenarios of climate change in the Qinling Mountains in Shaanxi Province. At the northern boundary of China’s giant panda distributional range, the Qinling Mountains are home to about 275 wild giant pandas, which account for 17 per cent of the remaining wild population. The Qinling giant pandas, which have been isolated because of thousands of years of human habitation around the mountain range, vary genetically from other giant pandas. The geographic isolation of these giant pandas makes them particularly valuable for conservation, but susceptible to climate change. The study is meant to help with understanding the impacts of climate change and will provide important information for science to assist in making good decisions, as looking at the climate impact on the bamboo can help conservationists prepare for the challenges that the giant panda will likely face in the future.

Bamboo is a vital part of forest ecosystems, being not only the preferred menu item for giant pandas, but also providing essential food and shelter for other wildlife, including other endangered species, like the ploughshare tortoise and purple-winged ground-dove. However, bamboo can be a risky crop to stake survival on because of its reproductive cycle. The studied species only flower and reproduce every 30 to 35 years, which limits the plant’s ability to adapt to changing climate and can spell disaster for a food supply. Bamboo naturally dies off every 40 to 120 years, depending on the type. Before people dominated their landscape, giant pandas could move from areas where die-offs had occurred to areas with healthy bamboo. But as the human population has expanded and fragmented giant panda habitats, the animals are no longer able to ‘follow’ the bamboo and so can get stuck in areas without enough food.

The Michigan scientists constructed unique models, using field data on bamboo locality, multiple climate projections and historic data of precipitation, temperature ranges and greenhouse gas emission scenarios to evaluate how the three dominant bamboo species would fare in the Qinling Mountains of China. Not many scientists to date have studied bamboo, but there is limited historical proof found in fossil records that does indicate that bamboo development has followed the benefits and devastation of climate change over time.

The fate of giant pandas will not only be determined by nature, but by humans as well. If, as the study’s models predict, large swathes of bamboo become unavailable because of human-caused land use changes, giant pandas will be deprived of clear, accessible paths between meal sources. The models can point the way for authorities to develop proactive planning to protect areas where the climate increases their potential for providing adequate food sources or to begin making natural bridges to allow giant pandas to escape from bamboo famine.

The results of the Michigan study have shown that giant panda habitat and the effectiveness of protecting this habitat will be severely affected by climate change and their models predict climate change could reduce giant panda habitat by nearly 60 per cent over the next 70 years. The research provides compelling evidence of the need to increase protected area development in many of the ranges of the current giant panda distribution. Independent conservationists have also advised that China needs to ensure increased connectivity between currently existing and potential future suitable territories. However, although the Michigan study does not refer to it, it is clear that more time is needed to decide about maintaining these links between areas of good giant panda habitats and conserving habitats for other species. The key element is haste, before numbers become too low and gene diversity becomes too limited.

Questions 1-5

Answer the questions below. Write NO MORE THAN THREE WORDS AND/OR A NUMBER from text for each answer. Write the answers in boxes on answer sheet.

1. What proportion of wild giant pandas lives in the Qinling Mountains? ……………..

2.What is the reason that makes the giant panda so vulnerable to changes in the climate? …………………………………………………………………………………..

3. What aspect of bamboo makes it a dangerous sole food source? ………………..

4. Where did scientists find evidence that bamboo growth and decline mirrors negative and positive climate change? ……………………………………………….

5. What can authorities create to let giant pandas move to different habitats in order to avoid starvation? …………………………………………………………………….