Impact of the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake on biodiversity and giant panda habitat in Wolong Nature Reserve, China


Jindong Zhang, Vanessa Hull, Weihua Xu, Jianguo Liu, Zhiyun Ouyang, Jinyan Huang, Xuezhi Wang and Rengui Li

Journal or Book Title: Ecological Research

Keywords: Biodiversity; Earthquake; Giant panda; Natural disasters; Wildlife habitat

Volume/Issue: 26

Page Number(s): 523-531

Year Published: 2011


Natural disasters such as earthquakes have profound effects on the earth’s biodiversity. However, studies on immediate earthquake impacts are rarely conducted at fine scales due to logistical constraints. We conducted the first post-earthquake field survey in Wolong Nature Reserve, Wenchuan, China, less than 1 year after it was hit by a magnitude 8.0 earthquake in 2008. Since Wolong harbors approximately 10% of the endangered wild giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) population, the impact of the earthquake on the giant panda and its habitat is of particular concern. We established 15 transects in three focus areas within the Reserve where we classified occurrences of earthquake damage according to vegetation and geophysical characteristics. In the 11.2 km2 area sampled, we recorded 156 occurrences of earthquake damage consisting of landslides and mudflows, which comprised a total area of 0.88 km2. Of all earthquake damage occurrences sampled, only 36% of occurences (73% of surface area) corresponded to damaged areas previously detected through broad-scale remote sensing. The remaining damaged areas mainly consisted of occurrences too small to be detected without field observation. Although there were significant losses to tree and shrub species diversity and richness in earthquake-damaged areas, remnant vegetation was found in the majority (80%) of damaged areas, suggesting the potential for forest recovery. Most earthquake-damaged areas were too steep to be classified as suitable giant panda habitat (79%). In addition, a sizable number of signs of giant panda (67) and other wildlife (148) were observed near the earthquake-damaged areas, and there appeared to be avoidance of earthquake damage only at short-range distances. This study has implications for understanding the impact of natural disasters on biodiversity and highlights the importance of fine scale on-the-ground assessments of disaster impacts on wildlife and their habitats.