Two of the panda's most distinctive features, its large size and its round face, are adaptations to its bamboo diet. Panda researcher Russell Ciochon observed that: "Much like the vegetarian gorilla, the low body surface area to body volume [of the giant panda] is indicative of a lower metabolic rate.
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This lower metabolic rate and a more sedentary lifestyle allow the giant panda to subsist on nutrient poor resources such as bamboo." Similarly, the panda's round face is the result of powerful jaw muscles, which attach from the top of the head to the jaw. Large molars crush and grind fibrous plant material. The panda has pushed its habitat to a higher altitude and limited available space.The timber profit gained from harvesting bamboo has destroyed a significant portion of the food supply for the wild panda. The population of wild pandas decreased by 50 percent from 1973 to 1984.
Twenty-five species of bamboo are eaten by pandas in the wild, such as Fargesia dracocephala and Fargesia rufa. Only a few bamboo species are widespread at the high altitudes pandas now inhabit. Bamboo leaves contain the highest protein levels; stems have less.
Because of the synchronous flowering, death, and regeneration of all bamboo within a species, pandas must have at least two different species available in their range to avoid starvation. While primarily herbivorous, the panda still retains decidedly ursine teeth, and will eat meat, fish, and eggs when available. In captivity, zoos typically maintain the pandas' bamboo diet, though some will provide specially formulated biscuits or other dietary supplements.
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