The giant pandas that we know and love today only live in the understory of the particular mountains of southwest China, where they only survive in bamboo. In support of their diet of resistant and fibrous bamboo, they have distinctive teeth, skulls and muscular characteristics along with a special pseudo-thumb, it is better to understand and hold bamboo stalks, leaves and buds. However, they have reported new evidence Current biology On January 31, extinct and old panda species probably had a more varied and complex diet.
"It has widely accepted that giant pandas have been exclusively fed bamboo for the last two million years," says Fuwen Wei, of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. But "our results showed the opposite".
It is impossible to know exactly what the extinct animals ate. But researchers may obtain clues by analyzing the composition of stable isotopes (different forms of the same element that contain an equal number of protons but different neutron numbers) on teeth, hair and animal bones, including fossil remains. In the new study, the researchers first analyzed the bony collagen of modern pandas (1970s-2000s) and other mammals of the same mountains.
The stable isotopic composition of carbon and nitrogen in the modern panda and other samples of modern mammal bones indicated three obvious groups: carnivores, herbivores and giant pandas. The giant pandas were clearly unique, due to their habit of eating bamboo. Next, the Wei team measured the collagen antigen isotopes of the 12 ancient pandas collected in seven archeological sites in the south and southwest of China and compared them with the patterns they observed in the giant pandas modern
The comparison of data showed that old and modern pandas are isotopically different from each other, suggesting differences in their dietary habits. There was also a greater variation between the ancient panda species, suggesting that the niche they occupied was three times larger than that of modern pandas. That is, ancient pandas probably had a varied diet, similar to other mammalian species that lived next to them. They were, the researchers write, "probably not exclusive bamboo feeders."
Researchers suggest that dietary habits of pandas have evolved in two phases. In the first place, the pandas happened to be butchers or omnivores until becoming devotee dedicated to the plants. Only later did they specialize in bamboo.
The researchers say they now want to find out which pandas exactly have changed in the specialized diet they have today. To find out, they intend to collect and study more panda samples from different historical times during the last 5,000 years.
Source of the story:
Materials provided by Press cell. Note: Content can be edited for style and duration.