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December 9, 2020

Adult panda at Wolong Nature Reserve in China

An adult panda, one of 61 pandas currently living at the Wolong Nature Reserve in China, delicately perches on a small branch. The reserve is located in Sichuan Province in southwest China.

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Scientists from Michigan State University and Stanford University, taking a fresh look at world population dynamics, have revealed evidence that increased numbers of households -- even where populations are declining -- are having a vast impact on the world's biodiversity and environment.

Reduction in household size has led to a rapid rise in household numbers around the world and has posed serious challenges to biodiversity conservation, writes Jianguo (Jack) Liu, a university distinguished professor of fisheries and wildlife at MSU, and Stanford colleagues Gretchen C. Daily, Paul R. Ehrlich and Gary W. Luck in the Jan. 12, 2003 advance online publication of the journal Nature. Biodiversity is also threatened by less-efficient per capita consumption of natural resources, the researchers say.

A systems ecologist, Liu received a National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award in 1997. He already had acquired significant background on the impact of household dynamics on giant pandas in southwest China's mountainous Wolong Nature Reserve when he approached Ehrlich, renowned for his population studies, with an idea: expand the probe into a worldwide look at the impact of households on global biodiversity and the environment.

"The numbers of households increased much faster than the size of the population at Wolong," Liu said. "This has important implications because given the same population size, more households mean a need to consume more resources, and therefore, a greater impact on the environment. What was discovered from the panda reserve helped me to conclude that considering population size and growth alone is not enough, and made me want to find out whether other areas in the world have similar phenomena."

In China's Wolong, a reduced average household size was tied directly to an increase in household numbers and a rise in the amount of fuel wood consumed by the local populace for cooking and heating. This has contributed to deforestation and loss and fragmentation of habitat for giant pandas.

Read more about this research in the NSF news release Researchers Tie Worldwide Biodiversity Threats to Growth in Households. (Year of image: 2002)

Credit: Sue Nichols, Michigan State University

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