Climate change could mean the extinction of the giant panda by the end of the century, a study published Sunday warns.
But ecologists hope that the pandas' plight might finally be a "wake-up call" that convinces skeptics of the dire situation.
Among the most endangered species in the world, the pandas eat almost exclusively bamboo, which is particularly susceptible to climate change, according to the study published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change.
The study focused on the Qinling Mountains in Shaanxi Province, The Guardian reports, which is home to about 275 pandas—or 17 percent of the entire wild panda population.
The mountains are surrounded by developed areas, which blocks their access to areas where bamboo is not as affected by global warming.
"We will need proactive actions to protect the current giant panda habitats," lead researcher Mao-Ning Tuanmu, from Yale University, told The Guardian. "We need time to look at areas that might become panda habitat in the future, and to think now about maintaining connectivity of areas of good panda habitat and habitat for other species."
Scientists said conservation efforts could still focus on protecting areas that have a better chance of supplying pandas with food, and natural "bridges" could be created to help pandas escape the mountains.
“I think probably there is hope, but only if we take active measures at once,” Jack Liu, an ecologist at Michigan State University in East Lansing, told Discovery magazine. “If we don’t, then probably not. It really depends on what we will do.”
“Most biologists think we’re standing on the edge of a mass extinction event,” Stanford ecologist Terry Root told Discovery. “If pandas can bring attention to that, it’s absolutely fantastic. This is a horrible thing to say, but I think this is a wonderful study because what it’s doing is showing us how we need to actually understand what we’re doing to the climate, because we’re not just doing it to the climate. It's going on all over the place, we just haven’t noticed it. Actually noticing it in an iconic species like the panda is super unfortunate, but maybe it will get people to understand what’s going on. It's a wake-up call."