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1 April 2009 Accurate population size estimates are vital parameters for conserving the giant panda
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Although the Chinese government and international organizations have spent millions of dollars estimating the population size of giant pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca), the outcomes of such surveys have been debated because the methods used had uncertain ability to differentiate individuals. Our work in Wanglang Reserve was the first attempt at using fecal microsatellite analysis to enumerate giant pandas (Zhan et al. 2006), and we found the molecular enumeration for the reserve more than doubled that estimated in the third National Survey. Recently, Garshelis et al. (2008) challenged our DNA estimate on the grounds that our study lacked geographic closure and that genotyping errors confounded our results. We challenge both assertions. First, we realize the violation of the assumption of geographic closure is a common problem for noninvasive genetic capture–recapture studies; therefore, we tried in our methodology to minimize geographic closure effects. We conclude that immigration did not greatly affect our main conclusions because of a geographic barrier circling the study area, the limited mobility of giant pandas, and the same sampling intensity was applied to the whole study area. Second, internationally accepted standards were applied to our molecular analysis and appropriate laboratory procedures were taken to produce reliable genotypes. Although we did not report an estimate of genotyping error in our previous work (Zhan et al. 2006), genotyping error rates have now been estimated, but are still pending publication. Based on the Wanglang result, we raised the possibility that there might be more giant pandas in the wild than previously thought. If our prediction is shown to be correct, we do not believe the new estimate will serve to downgrade current endangered status of the giant panda, because population numbers remain very low and panda habitats are fragmented (even more so since the 2008 earthquake). For future conservation of giant pandas, we suggest more attention should be paid to panda habitat conservation, including habitat restoration at the landscape scale and scientific research on detailed population processes.

Zhan Xiangjiang, Tao Yi, Li Ming, Zhang Zejun, Benoit Goossens, Chen Youping, Wang Hongjia, Michael Bruford, and Wei Fuwen "Accurate population size estimates are vital parameters for conserving the giant panda," Ursus 20(1), 56-62, (1 April 2009).
Received: 15 March 2008; Accepted: 1 January 2009; Published: 1 April 2009

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