Bear hunting altered genetics more than Ice Age isolation

Nov 26, 2007

It was not the isolation of the Ice Age that determined the genetic distribution of bears, as has long been thought. This is shown by an international research team led from Uppsala University in Sweden in the latest issue of Molecular Ecology. One possible interpretation is that the hunting of bears by humans and human land use have been crucial factors.

Twenty thousand years ago Europe was covered by ice down to Germany, and the climate in the rest of Europe was such that several species were confined to the southern regions, like the Iberian Peninsula and Italy. These regions were refuges, areas where species could survive during cold periods and then re-colonize central and northern Europe when it got warmer.

But the brown bear was not limited to these regions­it could roam freely across major parts of southern and central Europe. The current study analyzed mitochondria from bear remains. Some of the fossils are 20,000 years old. The analysis shows that the genetic pattern in these ancient brown bears differed from that of bears living today.

“Previously today’s genetic structure was interpreted as showing that the brown bear was isolated in southern Europe, just like many other species. But our study shows that this was not the case,” says Love Dalén, one of the Swedes participating in the study.

The new findings show instead that the brown bear survived in central Europe, even during the coldest period of the Ice Age. The scientists now believe that the genetic pattern found in today’s brown bears is the result of historical hunting and of human activities in the brown bear’s natural environment. A few thousand years ago, there were brown bears all over Europe, while today there are just a few remaining populations in Spain, Italy, the Balkans, and Scandinavia.

“It’s not strange that findings were interpreted differently in the past, with the brown bear extinct in most of its old area of inhabitation. We only had the remnant populations to work with,” says Anders Götherstam, who directed the study.

Source: Uppsala University

Explore further: Efforts to save rare northern white rhino continue

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

People finding their 'waze' to once-hidden streets

5 minutes ago

When the people whose houses hug the narrow warren of streets paralleling the busiest urban freeway in America began to see bumper-to-bumper traffic crawling by their homes a year or so ago, they were baffled.

Identity theft victims face months of hassle

15 minutes ago

As soon as Mark Kim found out his personal information was compromised in a data breach at Target last year, the 36-year-old tech worker signed up for the retailer's free credit monitoring offer so he would ...

Observers slam 'lackluster' Lima climate deal

25 minutes ago

A carbon-curbing deal struck in Lima on Sunday was a watered-down compromise where national intransigence threatened the goal of a pact to save Earth's climate system, green groups said.

Your info has been hacked. Now what do you do?

36 minutes ago

Criminals stole personal information from tens of millions of Americans in data breaches this past year. Of those affected, one in three may become victims of identity theft, according to research firm Javelin. ...

New Bond script stolen in Sony hack

39 minutes ago

An "early version" of the screenplay for the new James Bond film was the latest victim of a massive hacking attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment, its producers said in a statement on their website Sunday.

Ag-tech could change how the world eats

5 hours ago

Investors and entrepreneurs behind some of the world's newest industries have started to put their money and tech talents into farming - the world's oldest industry - with an audacious agenda: to make sure there is enough ...

Recommended for you

A vegetarian carnivorous plant

6 hours ago

Carnivorous plants catch and digest tiny animals in order and derive benefits for their nutrition. Interestingly the trend towards vegetarianism seems to overcome carnivorous plants as well. The aquatic carnivorous bladderwort, ...

The origin of the language of life

7 hours ago

The genetic code is the universal language of life. It describes how information is encoded in the genetic material and is the same for all organisms from simple bacteria to animals to humans. However, the ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.