Red Pandas: One or Two?

Red Pandas are incredibly popular animals in both pop culture and in zoos. and with good reason. Their adorable appearance and winning personality has earned them a large number of fans. Though formerly considered to be related to the giant panda due to morphological traits, they have since been reclassified to be more closely related to raccoons based on DNA sequencing. However, recently, a paper has come out in a peer-reviewed journal claiming the red panda needs to be divided into multiple species.  This has some implications for the issue of speciation and a creation model.

In the peer-reviewed journal Science Advances researchers used genetics to claim that the red panda, which had previously been separated into two subspecies within the species, is actually two separate species.  As part of the study, the researchers also claimed to demonstrate multiple genetic bottlenecks in both species, leading to low genetic diversity for both species.

The researchers made the determination that these are two separate species based on the phylogenetic species concept. Without diving too deeply into this concept, which we have done elsewhere, it is essentially an extreme splitter position. Species are split based on shared characteristics which are assumed to be derived from a common ancestor.  In this case, the split was based on variations in the DNA sequences. While this could work as a delineator of species, because the phylogenetic species concept assumes an evolutionary framework, in this instance the assumptions undergirding the model may not be justified.

Interestingly, these researchers also pointed out that both their proposed species had undergone multiple genetic bottlenecks. A genetic bottleneck is a population being dropped down to a very few members then recovering. Because of the loss of population size, much genetic diversity has been lost. These researchers speculate that one species,  the Chinese red panda, has undergone two population bottlenecks and a single large range expansion, while the other species, the Himalayan red panda has undergone three population bottlenecks and one small range expansion.  Because of all these bottlenecks, genetic diversity between the species is low, which has led to the accumulation of negative mutations and a gradual breakdown of the genome.

From a creationist perspective, there are a couple things we can learn from this study. The first is that having a correct definition of species matters. This study is based completely on a phylogenetic interpretation of the species, an interpretation that is not widely accepted within the secular community and which creationists ought to reject based on its foundational assumptions. Creation scientists need to formulate a workable species concept to go with the baramin concept.  Todd Elder has formulated one but it only works for sexually reproducing organisms and is basically unknown except to a few fringe baraminology students like myself.  More work needs to be done in this area to determine whether creationists can simply borrow the existing species concepts or if new ones need to be formulated.

Secondly, this paper demonstrates what happens to a population that undergoes genetic entropy, particularly after a bottleneck.  Assuming that the red pandas are their own kind, which has not been demonstrated conclusively, then we can infer some things based on the proposed population bottlenecks.  The Himalayan red panda was likely the one that got off the Ark. The first population bottleneck would likely have been the Flood. The remaining two bottlenecks would likely have occurred before the speciation event that created the Chinese Red Panda as they both share the same number of bottleneck events, presuming the Flood was the first such bottleneck for the Himilayan species.

Sometimes the evolutionists do us favors, even when they are wrong. It would appear that this is what is going on here. The phylogenetic species concept is likely invalid thus these two supposed species are likely still just the one species with two subspecies.  Never-the-less, the genetic bottlenecks this study revealed are intriguing as it helps explain why the red panda is endangered, with genetic entropy taking its toll on the genome.  It also tells us a lot about the history of the species. I suspect for almost every species of vertebrate, as well as most invertebrates and plants, at least one, maybe several genetic bottlenecks will be found due to the destruction of the Flood, and post-flood speciation.


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1 Comment

  1. It does look like a raccoon and the big panda like a bear. i suspect they are both from oneb kind off the ark. yet they are indeed just a bear and raccoon. the other like traits just due to the area they live in. in fact this equation one , like me, can use for everything from saying marsupials are just placentals with pouches and theropod dinos just flightless ground birds. this is a good thing for creationism.


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