In one of the hardest hit areas, the southern part of the Minshan Mountains, about one-quarter of the panda habitat, or 135 square miles, was destroyed by mudflows and landslides. The flows also had the effect of fragmenting much of the remaining habitat into smaller patches.
In a paper in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, Weihua Xu and colleagues at the Chinese Academy of Sciences detail the destruction in South Minshan, which is home to about 35 pandas and contains four reserves. They suggest that several new protected areas be created in the region, and that new corridors between fragmented areas be established “to ensure the long-term sustainability of the giant panda population and habitat.”
Dr. Xu and his colleagues used satellite images from before the quake, supplemented by fieldwork, to identify areas of suitable panda habitat — forested, not-too-steep mountain land at elevations between 3,300 and 12,500 feet, with plenty of pandas’ staple food, bamboo. Then they compared post-quake satellite images to determine where mud- and landslides had obliterated the habitat. They found that habitat in the region was reduced from about 590 square miles to 455.