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: Italian olive tree disease stumps EU

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Bear cub found dead in Spanish Pyrenees

Nov 24, 2014

A brown bear cub that was part of an effort to reintroduce the species to the Pyrenees mountains has been found dead on the Spanish side of the mountain range, local officials said Monday.

Recommended for you

Italian olive tree disease stumps EU

37 minutes ago

EU member states are divided on how to stop the spread of a disease affecting olive trees in Italy that could result in around a million being cut down, officials said Friday.

China starts relocating endangered porpoises: Xinhua

5 hours ago

Chinese authorities on Friday began relocating the country's rare finless porpoise population in a bid to revive a species threatened by pollution, overfishing and heavy traffic in their Yangtze River habitat, ...

A long-standing mystery in membrane traffic solved

7 hours ago

In 2013, James E. Rothman, Randy W. Schekman, and Thomas C. Südhof won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their discoveries of molecular machineries for vesicle trafficking, a major transport ...

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.