Genetics and conservation of European brown bears Ursus arctos



  • 1We review the genetics research that has been conducted on the European brown bear Ursus arctos, one of the genetically best-studied mammalian species.
  • 2The first genetics studies on European brown bears were on phylogeography, as a basis for proposed population augmentations. Two major mitochondrial DNA lineages, western and eastern, and two clades within the western lineage were found. This led to a hypothesis that brown bears had contracted to southern refugia during the last glacial maximum. More recent results suggest that gene flow among brown bears blurred this structure and they survived north of these putative refugia. Thus, today's structure might be a result of population fragmentation caused by humans.
  • 3The nuclear diversity of European brown bears is similar in range to that in North American bears: low levels occur in the small populations and high levels in the large populations.
  • 4Many non-invasive genetic methods, developed during research on brown bears, have been used for individual identification, censusing populations, monitoring migration and gene flow, and testing methods that are easier to use in endangered populations and over large areas.
  • 5Genetics has been used to study many behavioural and population ecological questions that have relevance for the conservation and management of brown bears.
  • 6The European brown bear has served, and will continue to serve, as a model for the development of methods, analyses and hypotheses in conservation genetics.