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Ailuropoda spp. (Pliocene - Pleistocene)
Ailuropoda spp.

[Image: Ailuropoda-microta1-738x591.jpg]

Temporal range:

Scientific classification
Kingdom:  Animalia
Phylum:  Chordata
Class:  Mammalia
Order:  Carnivora
Family:  Ursidae
Subfamily:  Ailuropodinae
Genus:  Ailuropoda  Milne-Edwards, 1870
  • A. baconi
  • A. microta
  • A. wulingshanensis
Ailuropoda is the only extant genus in the ursid (bear) subfamily Ailuropodinae. It contains one living and three fossil species of panda.
Only one species—Ailuropoda melanoleuca—currently exists; the other four species are prehistoric chronospecies. Despite its taxonomic classification as a carnivoran, the giant panda has a diet that is primarily herbivorous, which consists almost exclusively of bamboo.
Giant Pandas have descended from Ailurarctos, which lived during the late Miocene.
In 2011 fossil teeth from over 11 mya found in the Iberian peninsula were identified as belonging to a previously unidentified species in the Ailuropodinae subfamily This species was named Kretzoiarctos beatrix.

From Greek αἴλουρος "cat" + ‒́ποδος "foot". Unlike most bears, giant pandas do not have round pupils. They have vertical slits, as do cats' eyes. This has not only inspired the Latin name, but in Chinese the giant panda is called "large bear cat" (大熊猫, dà xióngmāo) and in Standard Tibetan, "cat bear" (byi-la dom).

  • Ailuropoda microta Pei, 1962 (late Pliocene)
  • Ailuropoda wulingshanensis Wang et alii. 1982 (late Pliocene - early Pleistocene)
  • Ailuropoda baconi (Woodward 1915) (Pleistocene)

Ailuropoda microta is the earliest known ancestor of the Giant Panda. It measured 1 m (3 ft) in length; the modern giant panda grows to a size in excess of 1.5 m (5 ft). Wear patterns on its teeth suggest it lived on a diet of bamboo, the primary food of the giant panda. The first discovered skull of the animal in a south China limestone cave is estimated to be 2 million years old. The skull found is about half the size of a modern-day giant panda, but is anatomically very similar. This research suggests that the giant panda has evolved for more than three million years as a completely separate lineage from that of other bears.

Ailuropoda baconi is an extinct panda from the Late Pleistocene, 750 thousand years ago, and was preceded by A. wulingshanensis and A. microtaas an ancestor of the giant panda, A. melanoleuca. Very little is known about this creature, however its latest fossils have been dated to the Late Pleistocene. A. baconi is the largest panda ancestor on record and probably was similar in physical structure to its descendant, the panda.

Journal Reference:
Jin, Changzhu; Russell L. Ciochon; Wei Dong; Robert M. Hunt Jr.; Jinyi Liu; Marc Jaeger & Qizhi Zhu (2007-06-26). "The first skull of the earliest giant panda" (pdf). Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 104 (26): 10932–10937. doi:10.1073/pnas.0704198104. PMC 1904166. PMID 17578912. Retrieved 2007-06-19.

Fossils of the giant panda Ailuropoda (Order Carnivora, Family Ursidae) are largely isolated teeth, mandibles, and a few rare skulls, known from the late Pliocene to late Pleistocene in China and Southeast Asia. Much of this material represents a Pleistocene chronospecies, Ailuropoda baconi, an animal larger than the living giant panda, Ailuropoda melanoleuca. The earliest certain record of Ailuropoda is the late Pliocene chronospecies, Ailuropoda microta, smaller than either A. baconi or A. melanoleuca, and previously known only from teeth and a few mandibles from karst caves in south China. Here, we report the discovery of the first skull of A. microta, establishing its cranial anatomy and demonstrating that the specialized cranial and dental adaptations of Ailuropoda for durophagous feeding behavior centered on bamboo were already evident in this late Pliocene species. The skull from Jinyin cave (Guangxi) and dental remains from other karst localities in southeastern China show that Ailuropoda microta occupied south China from ≈2 to 2.4 Myr ago after a marked global climatic deterioration. Dental and basicranial anatomy indicate a less specialized morphology early in the history of the lineage and support derivation of the giant panda from the Miocene Asian ursid Ailurarctos.

[Image: F1.large.jpg?download=true]
Fig. 1. Comparison of the skull and upper dentition of fossil and extant giant pandas. (A and D) Ailuropoda microta (IVPP V14564), late Pliocene, Jinyin cave, China. (B and E) A. baconi, Pleistocene, Liujiang, Guangxi, China. (C and F) Living A. melanoleuca, China.

Ancient pandas weren't exclusive bamboo eaters, bone evidence suggests

January 31, 2019, Cell Press

[Image: ancientpanda.jpg]
A wild Giant Panda in Foping Nature Reserve, feeding on bamboo. Credit: Fuwen Wei

The giant pandas we know and love today live only in the understory of particular mountains in southwestern China, where they subsist on bamboo alone. In support of their tough and fibrous bamboo diet, they've got distinctive teeth, skull, and muscle characteristics along with a special pseudo-thumb, the better to grasp and hold bamboo stems, leaves, and shoots with. But according to new evidence reported in Current Biology on January 31, extinct and ancient panda species most likely had a more varied and complex diet.

"It has been widely accepted that giant pandas have exclusively fed on bamboo for the last two million years," says Fuwen Wei of Chinese Academy of Sciences. But, "our results showed the opposite."

It's impossible to know exactly what extinct animals ate. But researchers can get clues by analyzing the composition of stable isotopes (different forms of the same element that contain equal numbers of protons but different numbers of neutrons) in animal teeth, hair, and bones, including fossil remains. In the new study, the researchers first analyzed bone collagen of modern pandas (1970s-2000s) and other mammals from the same mountains.

The stable isotopic composition of carbon and nitrogen from modern panda and other modern mammal bone samples indicated three obvious groups: carnivores, herbivores, and giant pandas. The giant pandas were clearly unique, on account of their habit of eating bamboo. Next, Wei's team measured bone collagen isotopes of 12 ancient pandas collected from seven archaeological sites in southern and southwestern China and compared them to the patterns they observed in modern giant pandas.

The data comparison showed that ancient and modern pandas are isotopically distinct from one another, suggesting differences in their dietary habits. There was also more variation among ancient panda species, suggesting that the niche they occupied was about three times wider than that of modern pandas. That is, ancient pandas most likely had a varied diet, similar to that of other mammalian species that lived alongside them. They were, the researchers write, "probably not exclusive bamboo feeders."

The researchers suggest that pandas' dietary habits have evolved in two phases. First, the pandas went from being meat eaters or omnivores to becoming dedicated plant eaters. Only later did they specialize on bamboo.

The researchers say they would now like to figure out when exactly pandas shifted to the specialized diet they have today. To find out, they plan to collect and study more panda samples from different historical times over the last 5,000 years.

Journal Reference:
Current Biology, Han et al.: "Diet Evolution and Habitat Contraction of Giant Pandas via Stable Isotope Analysis" 10.1016/j.cub.2018.12.051

The ancestral panda Ailurarctos lufengensis, excavated from the late Miocene, is thought to be carnivorous or omnivorous. Today, giant pandas exclusively consume bamboo and have distinctive tooth, skull, and muscle characteristics adapted to a tough and fibrous bamboo diet during their long evolution. A special feature, the pseudo-thumb, has evolved to permit the precise and efficient grasping of bamboo. Unlike those of extant pandas, little is known about the diet and habitat preferences of extinct pandas. Prevailing studies suggest that the panda shifted to specialized bamboo feeding in the Pleistocene; however, this remains questionable. Pandas now survive in a fraction of their historical habitat, but no specific information has been reported. Stable isotope analyses can be used to understand diet- and habitat-related changes in animals. Isotopic signals in bone collagen reflect dietary compositions of ancient human diets and dietary changes between historical and modern animal populations. Here, we conduct stable isotope analyses of bone and tooth samples from ancient and modern pandas and from sympatric fauna. We show that pandas have had a diet dominated by C3resources over time and space and that trophic niches of ancient and modern pandas are distinctly different. The isotopic trophic and ecological niche widths of ancient pandas are approximately three times larger than those of modern pandas, suggesting that ancient pandas possibly had more complex diets and habitats than do their modern counterparts. Our findings provide insight into the dietary evolution and habitat contraction of pandas.
[Image: wildcat10-CougarHuntingDeer.jpg]
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