In the 1930s, the Scandinavian brown bear was close to extinction due to vigorous extermination programmes in Norway and Sweden. Increased protection of the brown bear in Scandinavia has resulted in the recovery of four subpopulations, which currently contain close to 1000 individuals. Effective conservation and management of the Scandinavian brown bear requires knowledge of the current levels of genetic diversity and gene flow among the four subpopulations. Earlier studies of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) diversity revealed extremely low levels of genetic variation, and population structure that grouped the three northern subpopulations in one genetic clade and the southernmost subpopulation in a second highly divergent clade. In this study, we extended the analysis of genetic diversity and gene flow in the Scandinavian brown bear using data from 19 nuclear DNA microsatellite loci. Results from the nuclear loci were strikingly different than the mtDNA results. Genetic diversity levels in the four subpopulations were equivalent to diversity levels in nonbottlenecked populations from North America, and significantly higher than levels in other bottlenecked and isolated brown bear populations. Gene flow levels between subpopulations ranged from low to moderate and were correlated with geographical distance. The substantial difference in results obtained using mtDNA and nuclear DNA markers stresses the importance of collecting data from both types of genetic markers before interpreting data and making recommendations for the conservation and management of natural populations. Based on the results from the mtDNA and nuclear DNA data sets, we propose one evolutionarily significant unit and four management units for the brown bear in Scandinavia.
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