MAR 01, 2020 6:23 AM PST

Are There Actually Two Distinct Red Panda Species?

WRITTEN BY: Anthony Bouchard

Despite their rather conspicuous name, red pandas are nothing like the more widely recognized black and white giant panda. The former are members of the family that racoons and weasels reside in, while the latter are a type of bear. Despite this difference, however, both of the aforementioned pandas have a particular taste for bamboo. As such, they reside in distinct parts of Asia where bamboo supplies remain plentiful.

What we didn’t know, however, is that the modern-day red panda could actually be comprised of two entirely different species scattered throughout three separate populations. News of the novel findings, made possible with careful genetic analyses, were published just this past week in the journal Science Advances.

Image Credit: Pixabay

While it was long known that there were distinct cosmetic differences between red pandas residing on the East side of the Nujiang River and those residing on the West side, those differences were never impactful enough to justify a branching of species. Instead, scientists categorized them by subspecies, with those on the East side being dubbed Chinese red pandas and those on the West being called Himalayan red pandas.

A new genetic analysis, however, indicates that there are two distinct different species of the red panda (not subspecies) and that the boundary between the two isn’t the Nujiang River, but could instead be the Yalu Zangbu River to the West. If true, then this could have serious implications for conservation efforts involving the red panda going forward.

Related: Injured red panda nursed back to good health by veterinarians

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classifies the current single-species red panda as endangered. The latest findings, however, would mean dividing the number of known red pandas into two smaller groups of species. What this then implies is that each individual red panda species would need to be categorized as critically endangered given just how many of each there actually are.

To make matters worse, conservationists recognize that the continuous interbreeding between the two species could impurify the genes that make each one unique. That said, an important question arises – do conservationists allow the two species to continue interbreeding until only one of the same species exists, or should efforts be made to preserve both distinct species?

The latter option might seem like the most logical choice at first glance, but given that the two species are collectively declining, some conservationists argue that the interbreeding could be the only way for the two species to ensure each other’s survival. Any efforts to preserve the species individually could potentially backfire, especially if one moves closer to extinction than the other.

While it is indeed a tricky situation, one good thing we can gather from it all is that we are finally aware that there are two distinct species of the red panda. This knowledge wouldn’t have been possible without modern advances in the genetic sector of science technology. All we can do now is hope that the distinction was caught early enough for conservationists to do something about each species’ deteriorating situation.

Source: Phys.org, Science Advances, IUCN

About the Author
  • Fascinated by scientific discoveries and media, Anthony found his way here at LabRoots, where he would be able to dabble in the two. Anthony is a technology junkie that has vast experience in computer systems and automobile mechanics, as opposite as those sound.
You May Also Like
AUG 18, 2020
Immunology
How Dolphins Could Help Us Live Longer
AUG 18, 2020
How Dolphins Could Help Us Live Longer
Dolphins are helping scientists answer the age-old question: can we stop the clock when it comes to aging? A recent stud ...
AUG 20, 2020
Health & Medicine
Studying the World's Deadliest Animal
AUG 20, 2020
Studying the World's Deadliest Animal
Imagine hundreds of mosquitoes feeding on your arm for the sake of research! This is one unique aspect fueling the work ...
AUG 17, 2020
Drug Discovery & Development
Therapy Found in The Shell of Cashews
AUG 17, 2020
Therapy Found in The Shell of Cashews
A compound found in the shell of cashews can help in neurodegeneration. "We see this as an exciting finding, sugges ...
SEP 24, 2020
Technology
What Drives Essential Sensing in Animals?
SEP 24, 2020
What Drives Essential Sensing in Animals?
What drives essential sensing in animals? Researchers at Northwestern University have developed a new theory that can pr ...
NOV 17, 2020
Plants & Animals
Taking a Virtual Walk in a Forest Altered by Climate Change
NOV 17, 2020
Taking a Virtual Walk in a Forest Altered by Climate Change
For some people, it's easier to grasp the magnitude of a problem once it can be visualized.
DEC 07, 2020
Earth & The Environment
Monitoring marine animal activity under the sea
DEC 07, 2020
Monitoring marine animal activity under the sea
In a new study published in the journal Animal Biotelemetry, researchers report on the development of an applicatio ...
Loading Comments...