Population viability of the giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) is threatened by small population sizes in scattered isolated habitat areas. Designing a conservation plan for protecting and connecting the fragmented habitat will improve the chances for survival of this endangered species. For such a plan, this study assessed the overall habitat suitability for the species in the Qionglai mountain range (Sichuan, China) using Landsat TM imagery acquired in 2001, geographical data, field surveys, and information acquired in previous researches. Results show that the habitat is separated by roads and rivers, as well as by human settlements and cropland areas, into four main habitat blocks. Overlapping these four habitat blocks with the current nature reserve network reveals that only 36% of the total habitat is protected within nature reserves. Thus, the current nature reserve network is failing to preserve essential habitat for dispersal and genetic exchange. In this study, five key areas and four linkage areas were identified and suggested as nature reserves and/or corridors. These areas, together with the six currently established nature reserves in the mountain range, will form a conservation unit for facilitating the exchange of giant panda individuals among previously isolated habitat blocks. Policies recently implemented by the Chinese government, including the Natural Forest Conservation Program (NFCP) and the Grain-to-Green Program (GTGP), could aid in the formation of such a conservation unit. ¬© 2006 The Authors.
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