Conservation genetics of the European brown bear - a study using excremental PCR of nuclear and mitochondrial sequences


  • Felix Knauer and Wolfgang Schriider as well as Peha Kaaenfky work at the Munich Wildlife society on the protection, reintroduction and management of bears in the Alps. Together with Alberto Stoffela of the Italian Forestry Service, and with the Adamello- Brenta Nature Park and the Provincial Government of Trentino they are developing a plan for the long-term management of the Brenta bears. Stimulated by the problems encountered in the sampling of the animals in Brenta, Michael Kohn and Matthias Hoss developed the excremental PCR in the labora tory of Svante Paabo.

Department of Biology, University of California, Los Angeles, CA 90024, USA. Tel. +1310 825 5014. Fax: +1310 825 4609. E-mail:


In the Brenta area of northern Italy, a brown bear Ursus arctos population is rapidly going extinct. Restocking of the population is planned. In order to study the genetics of this highly vulnerable population with a minimum of stress to the animals we have developed a PCR-based method that allows the study of mitochondrial and nuclear gene sequences from droppings collected in the field. This method is generally applicable to animals in the wild. Using excremental as well as hair samples, we show that the Brenta population is monomorphic for one mitochondrial lineage and that female as well as male bears exist in the area. In addition, 70 samples from other parts of Europe were studied. As others have previously reported, the mitochondrial gene pool of European bears is divided into two major clades, one with a western and the other with an eastern distribution. Whereas populations generally belong to either one or the other mitochondrial clade, the Romanian population contains both clades. The bears in the Brenta belong to the western clade. The implications for the management of brown bears in the Brenta and elsewhere in Europe are discussed.