The genetic diversity of present-day brown bears (Ursus arctos) has been extensively studied over the years and appears to be geographically structured into five main clades. The question of the past diversity of the species has been recently addressed by ancient DNA studies that concluded to a relative genetic stability over the last 35 000 years. However, the post-last glacial maximum genetic diversity of the species still remains poorly documented, notably in the Old World. Here, we analyse Atlas brown bears, which became extinct during the Holocene period. A divergent brown bear mitochondrial DNA lineage not present in any of the previously studied modern or ancient bear samples was uncovered, suggesting that the diversity of U. arctos was larger in the past than it is now. Specifically, a significant portion (with respect to sequence divergence) of the intraspecific diversity of the brown bear was lost with the extinction of the Atlas brown bear after the Pleistocene/Holocene transition.
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