Free mate choice enhances conservation breeding in the endangered giant panda

TitelFree mate choice enhances conservation breeding in the endangered giant panda
MedientypJournal Article
Jahr der Veröffentlichung2015
AutorenMartin-Wintle, M. S., D. Shepherdson, G. Zhang, H. Zhang, D. Li, X. Zhou, R. Li, and R. R. Swaisgood
JournalNature Communications

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.

Unfortunately, in conservation breeding programmes, mates are traditionally selected primarily on the basis of genetic parameters to minimize loss of genetic diversity and inbreeding coefficients. Selecting breeding pairs in this manner potentially limits mate choice mechanisms, reducing population productivity and interfering with evolutionary processes supporting the genetic health of the population. Thus, our findings could have significant ramifications for captive populations of endangered species and could assist with the establishment of revised captive breeding protocols, placing behavioural compatibility on par with genetic management as a guiding principle.


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