Chinese researchers have found the gene responsible for brown fur seen rarely in a tiny group of giant pandas instead of normal black fur

Β© by GrrlScientist for Forbes | LinkTr.ee

Qi Zai, a male brown panda, is the only known individual brown panda alive in captivity. He was born in 2008. (Credit: AilieHM / CC BY-SA 4.0)

Brown-and-cream pandas possess a distinct coat color seen only rarely in a tiny, isolated population of pandas found at elevations between 1,300–3,000 metres (4,300–9,800 ft) in the Qinling Mountains of Shaanxi, China. This population, originally discovered in 1959, was later classified as the first β€” and so far the only β€” known subspecies of panda in 2005 (ref). This study found that Qinling pandas may have genetically separated from Sichuan pandas around 300,000 years ago.

The basis for this striking coat coloration has attracted a lot of speculation about its origin but, like almost all rare coat colors in animals, it is likely the result of inbreeding. Only seven brown-and-cream pandas have ever been documented, and all were from the Qinling population. The population of Qinling pandas is tiny, currently numbering only 200–300 individuals β€” up from just 100 individuals in 2001 β€” and is genetically isolated, which has allowed the coat color variation to persist in the population.

A team of Chinese researchers wanted to find the source of this peculiar coat color. They just…

--

--

𝐆𝐫𝐫π₯π’πœπ’πžπ§π­π’π¬π­, scientist & journalist
Gardening, Birding, and Outdoor Adventure

PhD evolutionary ecology/ornithology. Psittacophile. SciComm senior contributor at Forbes, former SciComm at Guardian. Also on Substack at 'Words About Birds'.