Pandas really don't want to mate with each other

Pandas are possibly the most iconic endangered species on the planet, but sometimes it seems like these creatures don't even want to stick around anymore. Here's the latest challenge for continued panda survival: males and females have completely different habitats.

Pandas have notoriously low birthrates, both in the wild and in captivity. Now researchers have added one more problem to the mounting list of why pandas don't want to do it, at least in the wild. While males will roam anywhere there's bamboo, females are much more picky, preferring specific high altitude forests on relatively steep slopes. These areas provide better den sites for the females to give birth, and the denser bamboo offers hiding places for still growing young.

Like all great research, the scientists figured this out by looking at a whole lot of poop - by surveying droppings throughout the animals' habitats, they were able to determine which ones came from males and which came from females and, by extension, what the pandas' habitats were. So, unless the females are more discreet poopers than males - which I guess we can't rule out, actually - then we now know they live in a much smaller range of habitats, though thankfully these small areas do overlap with the larger male roaming grounds.

The fact that female pandas prefer a much more limited habitat means that they're likely to be far more adversely affected by habitat loss than males. Whereas males have at least some ability to adapt to a wider range of environments if their preferred habitats are lost, the degradation of these particular conifer forests could leave females unable to survive and, worse, unable to raise young. There is a bit of good news in all this - now that we know about these habitat differences between genders, we can modify how we breed pandas in captivity to give females their preferred space.

Journal of Zoology via BBC News.