Obligate herbivory in an ancestrally carnivorous lineage: The giant panda and bamboo from the perspective of nutritional geometry

Yonggang Nie, Zejun Zhang, David Raubenheimer, James Elser, Wei Wei, Fuwen Wei

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

108 Scopus citations


Herbivores face various nutritional challenges in their life cycles, challenges that may become increasingly acute under ongoing environmental changes. Here, focusing on calcium, phosphorus and nitrogen, we used nutritional geometry to analyse individual-based data on foraging and extraction efficiencies, and combined these with data on reproduction and migratory behaviour to understand how a large herbivorous carnivore can complete its life cycle on a narrow and seemingly low quality bamboo diet. Behavioural results showed that pandas during the year switched between four main food categories involving the leaves and shoots of two bamboo species available. Nutritional analysis suggests that these diet shifts are related to the concentrations and balances of calcium, phosphorus and nitrogen. Notably, successive shifts in range use and food type corresponded with a transition to higher concentrations and/or a more balanced intake of these multiple key constituents. Our study suggests that pandas obligatorily synchronize their seasonal migration and reproduction with the disjunct nutritional phenologies of two bamboo species. This finding has potentially important implications for habitat conservation for this species and, more generally, draws attention to the need for understanding the nutritional basis of food selection in devising management plans for endangered species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)26-34
Number of pages9
JournalFunctional Ecology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015


  • Feeding strategy
  • Giant panda
  • Life cycle
  • Nutritional geometry
  • Reproductive timing
  • Right-angled mixture triangles
  • Seasonal migration

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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