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Edinburgh Panda Consortium

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The Edinburgh Consortium for Giant Panda Conservation and Forest Landscape Restoration is a partnership between several research and conservation organisations in and around Edinburgh, in collaboration with Chinese partners including the China Conservation and Research Centre for the Giant Panda, the China Wildlife Conservation Association and a range of stakeholders and conservation managers. We are working towards a 10-year interdisciplinary Research Programme to develop practical solutions to forest landscape restoration that benefit giant pandas and people.

Principal research questions

Forest Landscape Restoration is a process that aims to regain ecological integrity and enhance human well-being in deforested or degraded forest landscapes. To this end, we are focusing on research that provides a better understanding of the biophysical and social dynamics of the landscapes of Sichuan province, and especially the Wolong area. This research currently considers the following principal questions:

  • What are the main factors, including plant species diversity, that determine panda habitat suitability?
  • What is the likely future distribution of giant panda habitat in a changing climate?
  • How can spatial planning maximise connectivity of habitats for giant pandas and other important species?
  • What are the key human activities and livelihoods in the area, and what ecosystem services do they require and provide?
  • How are these activities likely to interact (positively or negatively) with panda habitat restoration and conservation policies?
  • What are the most effective formal and informal mechanisms (e.g. education, income generation through eco-tourism) for capacity building and co-management approaches?
  • How can local knowledge and expertise best be harnessed to support forest landscape restoration?
  • Therefore, what strategies exist for restoring giant panda habitats while

EPC – Partners

Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS)

Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) is one of the country’s foremost education and conservation charities. Founded in 1909 by Thomas Gillespie ‘to promote, facilitate and encourage the study of zoology and kindred subjects and to foster and develop amongst the people an interest in and knowledge of animal life’, these aims remain broadly similar a full century later. Education, research and conservation are at the core of RZSS, an independent Scottish charity, which owns and operates two of Scotland’s premier animal-based visitor attractions, Edinburgh Zoo and Highland Wildlife Park.
As part of the 10-year Giant Panda Loan Agreement the Royal Zoological Society Scotland (RZSS) has committed itself to develop a ‘Joint Laboratory’ with the China Conservation and Research Centre for the Giant Panda (CCRCGP), the scientific panda centre with the Wolong Nature Reserve.

Forest Research (FR)

Forest Research (FR) provides research services relevant to UK and international forestry interests and inform and support forestry’s contribution to UK governmental policies. Our core roles are to provide the evidence base for UK forestry practices and to support innovation. Our research, development and surveys address the social, economic and environmental aspects of sustainable forestry in a multifunctional landscape, and focus on providing new knowledge and practical solutions based on high quality science. FR undertakes applied interdisciplinary research to support a forest landscape restoration including the development of an increasingly sophisticated range of models and tools for forest landscape policy-makers, planners and practitioners.

Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE)

Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) is an internationally renowned centre of excellence in plant biodiversity research and conservation. Recognising the fundamental role that biodiversity plays in underpinning ecosystem function and providing services critical to human life, RBGE’s works is focussed on providing baseline data on plant and fungal biodiversity and taxonomy, understanding the evolutionary processes that give rise to biodiversity, and conserving biodiversity in the face of environmental change. This work combines scientific and horticultural expertise and takes place at all scales, from genes to landscape. A strong emphasis is also given to building capacity nationally and internationally RBGE has maintained a long and fruitful relationship with China, stretching back to the early 1800s. RBGE works closely with our twinned institution, the Kunming Institute of Botany, delivering scientific research programmes in Yunnan and post graduate education in China and Scotland. We have jointly established the Jade Dragon Field Station in Lijiang, and are a partner Editorial Centre for the international Flora of China project. In 2004 the Jade Dragon Field Station was declared as the UK’s first Joint Scientific Laboratory in China.

The University of Edinburgh (UEDIN)

The University of Edinburgh (UEDIN) is one of the largest and most successful universities in the UK, with an international reputation as a centre of academic excellence. In June 2008 the Times Higher rated the university in the world top eight for Ecology and Environment research. Its international character is reflected in its student population, which comprises 24,500 students from over 120 different countries worldwide. It can also be found in its truly international staff as well as in its joint research with overseas universities, institutes, companies and governments. At present, it is envisaged that the main body of work on this project will be carried out within the Research Institute of Geography and the Lived Environment, although contributions from other departments is likely as the project develops. The institute provides scientific evidence and analyses that support policies for sustainable development in the fields of energy and climate, land and water use as well as international development. It is a hub for policy-related, interdisciplinary research and teaching within the School of Geosciences and the University of Edinburgh.


The ECGPLR has organised a range of exciting MSc projects, suitable for students from a range of programmes. Below are summaries of the current MSc projects that have been taken on by University of Edinburgh students. Please get in touch with Marc Metzger ( if you would like further information or if you would like to suggest your own project.

Panda habitat restoration and human livelihoods: conflicts and synergies

Giant Pandas are an internationally significant and endangered species found exclusively in a few remaining areas of natural forest in China. Within China, the species has great emblematic and economic value, and intensive efforts are being made to ensure its long-term survival. In Sichuan Province, panda reintroductions and habitat restoration are being used to extend the species’range beyond isolated nature reserves. However, these conservation activities may be to the detriment of local human populations and their traditional, and culturally important, subsistence harvesting, hunting and agriculture. This project will look into conflicts and synergies between human livelihoods and panda habitat restoration, in order to support practical management and policymaking for the restoration of forest habitats, the protection of human livelihoods and the recovery of panda populations. The project will involve a comprehensive literature review of human-wildlife conflicts and resolutions, identification and analysis of relevant socio-economic and ecological data, and the development of a proof-of-concept agent-based model to support forest management decision-making. The results will feed into a wider project on panda conservation, land use and climate change.
This project is supervised by Calum Brown (University of Edinburgh) andMariella Marzano (Forest Research). For more information contact

Panda habitat suitability modelling

Restoration of panda habitats is a major priority in China’s Sichuan Province, where isolated panda populations remain in a number of mountainous nature reserves. However, successful habitat restoration requires improved knowledge about the factors that determine habitat suitability. These factors primarily relate to the availability of food (specific bamboo species) and water, and the nature and extent of human disturbance. This project will involve a literature review to gather evidence about habitat suitability for pandas, sourcing data that describe an appropriate range of factors in the Wolong region, and modelling these to discover the main determinants of suitability. This model can then be used to assess options for forest restoration, habitat corridors, reintroductions, land use zoning and other approaches to increasing panda population size and health. It may also be subsequently developed to explore the impacts on other species native to the area, and the possible effects of climate change on panda habitats and distributions.
This project is supervised by Calum Brown (University of Edinburgh) and Chloe Bellamy (Forest Research). For more information contact

Protected Areas in Sichuan, China: Connecting communities, landscapes and conservation

This project will investigate protected area design strategies that might be appropriate to the Wolong region, in terms of their functionality for panda populations, benefits for local and wider communities (e.g. livelihoods, tourism, access), and how well they work for other species (especially in terms of the potential ‘umbrella’ effect of the giant panda on their general ecosystem and on other key species in the region such as bamboo and rhododendron). The objective is to identify broad and/or specific strategies for reserve design (e.g. spatial configuration and regulation) that satisfy the diverse requirements of panda reserves. In particular, reserves must allow the persistence of viable panda populations, but also their wider environment. Furthermore, they must be useful to local human populations and, given pandas’ economic importance, must allow for tourism to some extent – despite the mountainous and remote terrain.
This project is supervised by Calum Brown (University of Edinburgh) and Chloe Bellamy (Forest Research). For more information contact

Possible impacts of climate change on panda populations

Conservation of panda populations in Sichuan Province, China, relies on reintroductions and habitat protection and expansion. This largely reactive approach may not be sufficient to ensure the species’ survival as climate change increasingly affects habitats and food sources. However, detailed knowledge about the likely effects of climate change in this region is lacking, making it difficult to develop robust conservation strategies. This project will establish links between panda habitats and existing bioclimatic zones, examine the responses of these zones to predicted changes in climate in Sichuan Province, and investigate the implications for panda habitats, populations and the wider ecosystem. Human land use and other impacts will also be considered, allowing recommendations to be made about conservation management under a range of possible future conditions.
This project is supervised by Marc Metzger (University of Edinburgh) and Antje Ahrends (The Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh). For more information contact Marc:

Research methods

We are combining a number of approaches to gathering and analysing data in order to develop assist in the planning and implementation of forest landscape restoration. Our main methods currently include:

Field surveys

Field surveys of existing giant panda habitat and examination of historical records will help us to understand the species composition of undisturbed panda habitat. We will also explore the development of efficient tools for distinguishing among bamboo species (e.g. high-throughput molecular diagnostic assays).

Habitat suitability and connectivity models

Habitat suitability models for giant pandas and other key species using under contemporary and future predicted climates will help to establish the risk to species and habitats from environmental change and fragmentation. This analysis will highlight key environmental drivers and provides a tool for assessing the potential efficacy of different restoration approaches, such as habitat corridors, in different locations.

Our long term aim is to develop with forest managers a suite of GIS-supported tools that can be integrated into the forest planning process to assess the impacts of alternative management interventions and to support Forest Landscape Restoration. Managers will be able to use these tools to select appropriate woodland species that are suited to sites now and under changing environmental conditions. This will allow a landscape-scale approach to habitat management, with habitat patches of different sizes and carrying capacities arranged to maximise their connectedness and use by giant panda and other species.

These spatially explicit, evidence-based decision making tools will help to target resources and prioritise actions on the ground in an effort to improve habitats to support the long-term viability of priority and protected species such as the giant panda. They will provide the basis for an objective and transparent decision-making process.

Agent based models

A range of models will be tailored to the local context through the use of biophysical and social data. Habitat modelling will be complemented by ‘agent-based’ modelling of land use change, to explore the potential impacts of land management decisions and policy interventions. This will allow us to consider a range of future scenarios of climatic, environmental and social conditions, and so design suitable restoration strategies.

Social research

Our social research will also examine the conflicts and synergies between human livelihoods and panda habitat restoration, in order to support practical management and policymaking for the restoration of forest habitats, the protection of human livelihoods and the recovery of giant panda populations. Engagement with communities facilitates local involvement in shaping the future management of the forests. To balance the requirements of giant pandas (and other biodiversity) and human populations, the different trade-offs and impacts on pandas, people and forests need to be considered.

Social research to understand key human-wildlife interactions can facilitate the development or continued improvement of collaborative management approaches with local communities that support both panda conservation and livelihood development. Key research issues involve: (i) major sources of livelihoods (building on existing datasets), (ii) community resources (e.g. leadership, social networks) (iii) how people use (or want to use) the forests and how this might change in the future, (iv) experiences of wildlife/pandas (v) impacts of earthquakes and timeline of changes to livelihoods, (vi) Perceptions and experiences conservation goals, (vii) attitudes towards, and experiences of, government bodies and other institutions (vii) potential opportunities for co-management.

Who is who

Antje Ahrends

Head of Genetics and Conservation, RBGE

Antje is the Head of Genetics and Conservation at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. Her work focuses on the use modelling approaches combined with GIS, remote sensing and large scale biodiversity data to study the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services in focal systems. This is to (a) enhance the understanding of the drivers of biodiversity patterns, (b) make predictions on the impacts of future environmental change, and (c) evaluate conservation options for mitigating these impacts. Geographically, her work focusses on China, South East Asia, East Africa, and the United Kingdom. Prior to her current role she has worked for several years in sustainable development and conservation projects with different NGOs in Kenya and Tanzania. She aims to link her research with tangible outcomes for biodiversity conservation.

Chloe Bellamy

Spatial Scientist, Forest Research

Chloe specialises in spatial ecology. Her research focusses on developing models and spatial indicators of woodland biodiversity and ecosystem services. She completed her PhD on habitat suitability modelling for UK bat species at the University of Leeds in 2011 and is now a Spatial Scientist for the Land Use and Ecosystem Services Science Group at Forest Research.

At the Giant Panda Research Symposium in Duijangyan (April 2015), Chloe presented some of the Forest Research spatial indicators and GIS tools that could be used to support best management practices and landscape restoration in Wolong. She is currently co-supervising two Edinburgh University MSc students who are carrying out projects on modelling panda habitat and reserve design.

Calum Brown

Postdoctoral researcher, University of Edinburgh

Calum is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Edinburgh, where he works on the causes and effects of land use change, including climatic, demographic, political and environmental interactions. His background is in forest ecology and he has general interests in human-environment interactions and environmental restoration in temperate and sub-tropical regions. His research uses modelling techniques and spatial statistical analyses to investigate the dynamics of ecological and socio-ecological systems, and he is applying these to explore options for giant panda habitat restoration and their consequences for local communities and livelihoods.

Pete Hollingsworth

Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

Professor Pete Hollingsworth is Director of Science at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, and a Visiting Professor at the University of Edinburgh and an Honorary Professor of the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Kunming Institute of Botany. His research focuses on understanding and conserving plant biodiversity. In recent years he has contributed to the international efforts of building a unified DNA based-index of life on earth, including Chairing the Scientific Steering Committee of the International Barcode of Life Project. He has a strong interest in linking scientific research to practical conservation outcomes, and has recently been involved in co-authoring the new International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s guidelines on conservation translocations.

Mariella Marzano

Senior Social Researcher, Forest Research

Mariella has a history of working in sustainable natural resource management across agriculture, fisheries and forestry sectors in the UK and internationally. She has Ph.D. in Social Anthropology, which explored rural development and natural resource management issues in Sri Lanka. Mariella is currently Senior Project Leader within FR’s Social and Economic Research Group providing social science input and leading interdisciplinary research on topics such as tree and plant biosecurity, adaptive forest management, human-wildlife interactions and risk communication.

Mariella attended the Giant Panda Research Symposium in Duijangyan (April 2015) and talked about some of the issues involved in the human dimensions of species management including issues including balancing conservation and local livelihoods, managing human-wildlife conflicts, recreational disturbance and opportunities for collaborative management.

Marc Metzger

University of Edinburgh

Marc is a Senior Lecturer in Environment and Society within the Research Institute of Geography and the Lived Environment. He joined Edinburgh University in 2007 as a Senior Research Fellow in Environmental Change Modelling. Before he was a lecturer in Environmental Assessment at Wageningen University in the Netherlands. He studied ecosystem biology between 1995 and 2000, and undertook his PhD in European vulnerability to global change impacts on ecosystem services from 2001-2005, also at Wageningen University. Over the past 10 years Marc has worked in a wide range of interdisciplinary projects focusing on the potential impacts of global environmental change on ecosystems and the services they provide to society.

Linda Neaves

Postdoctoral researcher, RGBE

Linda is a joint postdoctoral researcher currently using genomic methods to investigate the details giant panda diet in the wild, and how this, combined with improved DNA-based identification of bamboo species may alter concepts about suitable panda habitat and be used to improve habitat restoration and conservation. Her background is in population genetics of mammals and she is interested in the application of genomic tools to inform wildlife conservation and management, including population genetics, hybridisation, species identification and evolution. She is based at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and also works at the Australian Centre for Wildlife Genomics, Australian Museum Research Institute.

Jacqueline Rosette

Royal Society University Research Fellow, Swansea University

Dr Jacqueline Rosette is a Royal Society University Research Fellow at Swansea University, UK, with 11 years’ experience in forest remote sensing research. She was based at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center during 2011-2012 where she was employed on NASA’s Carbon Monitoring System initiative, using techniques combining lidar, field data and Landsat disturbance products to estimate vegetation carbon distribution at an operationally-relevant scale. She was also a visiting scientist at NASA Goddard during April-June 2010 using radiative transfer modelling with the FLIGHT model to investigate implications of the design of a proposed satellite lidar mission for vegetation applications. Dr Rosette’s primary research interest is the use of remote sensing for forest biophysical parameter estimation, particularly to complement and enhance forest inventory, monitoring and assessment, and to offer observational inputs to forestry models.

Juan Suárez-Miguez

Remote Sensing Application programme leader, Forest Research

Juan Suárez is a remote sensing scientist and the Project Leader of the Remote Sensing Applications programme in Forest Research. He has developed expertise in operational tools for forest management, LiDAR, Digital Aerial Photography, Hyperspectral sensors, Thermal imagery, Satellite Optical systems, GIS, abiotic hazards in forestry, forest modelling, monitoring forest health and forest condition. He has been working at Forest Research for 21 years in different international and national research projects

Iain Valentine

Royal Zoological Society of Scotland

Iain is Director of the Giant Panda Programme and Senior Policy Advisor for the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, based at Edinburgh Zoo. Before taking on this role Iain was responsible for the animal collections, animal welfare, management, enrichment & presentation activities, at both Edinburgh Zoo and Highland Wildlife Park, all of the educational and ex situ and in situ research & conservation projects work and staff within RZSS.

Iain initiated the Giant Panda project at RZSS in 2006 and has given numerous talks and interviews about Pandas/China and his experiences. The Giant Panda Programme is a key programme of RZSS and involves numerous researchers and projects based both here in the UK and abroad.

He is a Chartered Biologist, Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology and a Fellow of the Linnean Society of London.