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Pandas have earned attention as pop culture icons. They’ve also earned a change in status, from “endangered” to “vulnerable,” due in part to MSU research.

For more than two decades, Spartan researchers have worked toward improving the plight of the panda in China. Led by MSU’s Jianguo “Jack” Liu, the results include policy change and sweeping conservation efforts that help protect not only pandas, but also people and the planet.

But the work is far from finished. Liu, an internationally renowned panda expert and director of MSU’s Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability, says as much as we want to do a victory dance, the need to continue to understand and address potential threats to both people and pandas must continue. “Other wildlife species share a lot of common issues in terms of interaction with people, so the lessons we have learned are important for future conservation worldwide,” says Liu.

For 20+ years, MSU has been committed to protecting pandas through research.

MSU’s longtime partnership with China’s Wolong National Nature Reserve has given Liu and his team unparalleled access to panda habitats. Researchers blend detailed satellite images that provide rich information about available bamboo with on-the-ground data to get a detailed view of changes in quality of panda habitat, rather than just quantity. This method of evaluating habitats provides crucial information for conservation planning and management, a method that can be used in areas seeking to protect biodiversity all over the world.

Spartan research and satellite-imaging data have contributed to stronger enforcement of habitat-protecting laws abroad.

Much of Liu’s research centers on what he has termed “telecoupling,” which explores novel ways of connecting events that have widespread effects across the planet—from big events like climate change and natural disasters to daily occurrences like tourism, trade, migration, the spread of pollution and invasive animal and plant species. The big takeaway: There is no separating the fate of nature from the fate of humans.

MSU’s long-term panda research provides insights into global issues like industrialization and globalization.

To learn more about MSU’s efforts to save pandas, visit

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