March 02, 2020
As our planet faces the climate crisis it is more important than ever to help conserve vulnerable species. The red panda is an endangered animal with less than 10,000 individuals left in the wild. It was previously thought that there were two subspecies of red panda, although new research indicates they are in fact two distinct species.
Researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences have been able to sequence the genomes of 65 red pandas from populations in China and the Himalayas. The DNA of red pandas from these two populations were different and show signs of significant genetic divergence. Differences in the physical appearance of the two populations, combined with this new DNA evidence indicate two distinct species.
This new genomic information indicates that there has been little to no gene flow between the two populations for roughly 200,000 years. To maintain the genetic differences of the two species it is important that conservation breeding programs in zoos and wildlife sanctuaries do not cross breed the Chinese and Himalayan red pandas. The creation of species-specific conservation plans will also provide these two species with their best chance of survival in the face of our changing climate.
Source: New Scientist
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