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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Landscape features influence gene flow as measured by cost-distance and genetic analyses: a case study for giant pandas in the Daxiangling and Xiaoxiangling Mountains

Lifeng Zhu1, Xiangjiang Zhan1, Tao Meng1, Shanning Zhang2 and Fuwen Wei1*

Author Affiliations

1 Key Laboratory of Animal Ecology and Conservation Biology, Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Datunlu, Chaoyang District, Beijing, 100101, People's Republic of China

2 China Wildlife Conservation Association, No 18, Hepingli East Street, Beijing, 100714, People's Republic of China

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BMC Genetics 2010, 11:72  doi:10.1186/1471-2156-11-72

Published: 23 July 2010



Gene flow maintains genetic diversity within a species and is influenced by individual behavior and the geographical features of the species' habitat. Here, we have characterized the geographical distribution of genetic patterns in giant pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) living in four isolated patches of the Xiaoxiangling and Daxiangling Mountains. Three geographic distance definitions were used with the "isolation by distance theory": Euclidean distance (EUD), least-cost path distance (LCD) defined by food resources, and LCD defined by habitat suitability.


A total of 136 genotypes were obtained from 192 fecal samples and one blood sample, corresponding to 53 unique genotypes. Geographical maps plotted at high resolution using smaller neighborhood radius definitions produced large cost distances, because smaller radii include a finer level of detail in considering each pixel. Mantel tests showed that most correlation indices, particularly bamboo resources defined for different sizes of raster cell, were slightly larger than the correlations calculated for the Euclidean distance, with the exception of Patch C. We found that natural barriers might have decreased gene flow between the Xiaoxiangling and Daxiangling regions.


Landscape features were found to partially influence gene flow in the giant panda population. This result is closely linked to the biological character and behavior of giant pandas because, as bamboo feeders, individuals spend most of their lives eating bamboo or moving within the bamboo forest. Landscape-based genetic analysis suggests that gene flow will be enhanced if the connectivity between currently fragmented bamboo forests is increased.