Taxonomic issues in bears: impacts on conservation in zoos and the wild, and gaps in current knowledge



    1. Department of Natural Sciences, National Museums Scotland, Chambers Street, Edinburgh EH1 1JF, United Kingdom, and Institute of Geography, School of Geosciences, University of Edinburgh, Drummond Street, Edinburgh EH8 9XP, United Kingdom
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Taxonomy is essential for underpinning conservation science and action, and the international and national implementation of protective legislation. However, many of the current scientific species and subspecies names for bears have a poor scientific basis. Poor understanding of ursid taxonomy could compromise conservation both in the wild and in captivity; all eight ursid species are listed on the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora and 75% are Endangered or Vulnerable. Although there has been much molecular research on ursids in recent years, this has mainly focused on phylogenetic relationships, including resolution of whether the Giant panda Ailuropoda melanoleuca is an ursid. Some phylogeographical studies have provided new insights into geographical variation of some bear species, but these studies are often only regional, or lack sufficient samples, or use only mtDNA. There is an urgent need for integrated molecular and morphological studies of geographical variation of all bear species in order to establish a robust taxonomy for the Ursidae for enhanced conservation management and action.