This work was supported by Animal Behavior Society Student Research Grant, Oregon Zoo Future for Wildlife Grant, Portland State University’s Forbes Lea Grant and the Ocean Park Conservation Foundation, Hong Kong
Courtship in animals, Giant panda -- Conservation, Endangered species -- China, Giant panda -- Breeding
Conservation breeding programmes have become an increasingly important tool to save endangered species, yet despite the allocation of significant resources, efforts to create self-sustaining populations have met with limited success. The iconic giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) embodies the struggles associated with ex situ species conservation. Here we show that behavioural mate preferences in giant pandas predict reproductive outcomes. Giant pandas paired with preferred partners have significantly higher copulation and birth rates. Reproductive rates increase further when both partners show mutual preference for one another. If managers were to incorporate mate preferences more fully into breeding management, the production of giant panda offspring for China’s reintroduction programme might be greatly expedited. When extended to the increasing numbers of species dependent on ex situ conservation breeding to avoid extinction, our findings highlight that mate preference and other aspects of informed behavioural management could make the difference between success and failure of these programmes.
Martin-Wintle, M. S., Shepherdson, D., Zhang, G., Zhang, H., Li, D., Zhou, X., … Swaisgood, R. R. (2015). Free mate choice enhances conservation breeding in the endangered giant panda. Nature Communications, 6, 10125.