The giant panda is a flagship species of wildlife conservation worldwide, and its black and white pelage and cute appearance attract people all over the world. It is also an umbrella species of wildlife conservation; protecting the giant panda also protects other endangered wildlife sympatric with pandas.
To save this endangered species, the Chinese government has invested a large amount of money in panda conservation and established 67 nature reserves, which play a very important role in the effective conservation of giant pandas.
The Fourth National Survey of Giant Pandas reveals that both the population and habitat area increased gradually as compared to the Third National Survey, showing significant conservation achievements.
In 2016, based on species ranking criteria, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has downlisted the status of the giant panda from "endangered" to "vulnerable". However, during 50+ years of giant panda conservation work, many have questioned whether investing a large amount of money in panda conservation is worthwhile. In fact, some detractors have argued that spending valuable resources on panda conservation is wasteful.
To determine the value of panda conservation, a research team led by Prof. WEI Fuwen from the Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, together with colleagues from other research organizations, cooperated to assess the value of ecosystem services from giant panda reserves for the first time.
They found that the value provided by the giant pandas and forested habitat within nature reserves is worth ~ US$2.6-6.9 billion every year, which is about 10-27 times the conservation cost of giant pandas.
This finding has important implications for giant panda conservation, expansion of the nature reserve network such as the Giant Panda National Park, and other investments in natural capital.
"Ecosystem services" refers to the benefits humans derive from the ecosystem. These benefits are related to provisioning (e.g., food and water), regulation (e.g., flood or disease control), and culture (e.g., recreation, natural beauty, etc.).
It is estimated that global ecosystem services are worth US$125 trillion per year. However, until now, the value of ecosystem services related to giant pandas and their habitat has been unclear.
The researchers performed a meta-analysis of ecosystem service studies implemented in China, and calculated a unit value per hectare per year for each subcategory of ecosystem services.
Based on detailed calculations, the value of provisioning and regulatory services from the giant pandas and their habitat within nature reserves in 2010 was estimated to be US$1.899 billion, and the value of cultural services in 2010 was worth US$0.709 billion for the Chinese population and for tourists from Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries. The total value of ecosystem service was US$2.6 billion.
If the cultural service value was estimated for the global human population, the total value of ecosystem services would be US$6.9 billion.
In contrast, the total cost of panda conservation in 2010 was US$0.255 billion. A cost-benefit ratio of ~ 10.2-27.1 was estimated, highlighting that the ecosystem service value from the giant panda and its reserves was much higher than the conservation investment.
This study answers long-term public concerns about the costs and benefits of giant panda conservation, and helps correct misunderstandings about giant panda conservation.
This study, entitled "The Value of Ecosystem Services from Giant Panda Reserves", has been published in Current Biology.
This study was supported by grants from the Ministry of Science and Technology of China, the National Natural Science Foundation of China, and the Chinese Academy of Sciences.