Seasonal and reproductive variation in chemical constituents of scent signals in wild giant pandas

  • Wenliang Zhou
  • Yonggang Nie
  • Yibo Hu
  • Ronald R. Swaisgood
  • Yaohua Zhang
  • Dingzhen LiuEmail author
  • Fuwen WeiEmail author
Research Paper


Seasonally reproducing animals show many behavioral and physiological changes during the mating period, including increased signaling for intrasexual competition and mate attraction. We collected 102 anogenital gland secretions (AGS) from marking trees in Foping Nature Reserve, and used gas chromatography mass spectrometry analyze these chemical composition. Of these marks, all but one were from males, confirmed with DNA analysis. We found that several chemical constituents, especially volatile compounds, is present only during the mating season and that the relative abundance of many compounds changed as a function of breeding season, whereas nonvolatile compounds were lower in the mating season. This seasonal variation in chemical composition of AGS most likely plays an important role in governing giant panda reproduction, including mate location, attraction, and male-male competition. The chemical properties of many of these putative chemosignals—such as volatility and longevity—are suggestive of these roles, and undoubtedly contribute to successful reproduction for this species with a characteristically sophisticated chemical communication system. We also found a number of important differences between the chemical constituents of AGS from wild pandas and those found in previous studies with captive pandas, suggesting that inappropriate chemosignal composition may contribute to poor reproductive success in captive breeding programs.


giant panda chemical communication anogenital gland secretions chemical composition reproduction 


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This work was supported by the Ministry of Science and Technology of China (2016YFC0503200) and the Chinese Academy of Sciences (QYZDB-SSW-SMC047). We gratefully acknowledge the support of Foping National Nature Reserve for permission to conduct this field research. We thank Xiaowei Qin for their help with the GC-MS analysis, Xiaolin Wang, Kai Gao and Yiwen He for their assistance in sample collection, Xiaoyue Lu and Min Li for their DNA analysis, and Huizhong Fan for the data analysis.

Supplementary material

11427_2018_9388_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (209 kb)
Supplementary material, approximately 208 KB.
11427_2018_9388_MOESM2_ESM.docx (22 kb)
Table S1 Backgrounds of anogenital gland secretions samples used for analysis and DNA sex and individual identification of giant pandas, A. melanoleuca


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Copyright information

© Science China Press and Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Wenliang Zhou
    • 1
    • 2
  • Yonggang Nie
    • 2
    • 3
  • Yibo Hu
    • 2
    • 3
  • Ronald R. Swaisgood
    • 4
  • Yaohua Zhang
    • 5
  • Dingzhen Liu
    • 1
    Email author
  • Fuwen Wei
    • 2
    • 3
    • 6
    Email author
  1. 1.Ministry of Education Key Laboratory for Biodiversity Science and Ecological Engineering, College of Life SciencesBeijing Normal UniversityBeijingChina
  2. 2.CAS Key Laboratory of Animal Ecology and Conservation Biology, Institute of ZoologyChinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina
  3. 3.Center for Excellence in Animal Evolution and GeneticsChinese Academy of SciencesKunmingChina
  4. 4.Institute for Conservation ResearchSan Diego Zoo GlobalSan DiegoUSA
  5. 5.State Key Laboratory of Integrated Management of Pest Insects and Rodents in Agriculture, Institute of ZoologyChinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina
  6. 6.University of Chinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina

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