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Genetic and demographic recovery of an isolated population of brown bear Ursus arctos L., 1758

AuthorsGonzález, Elena G. ; Blanco, Juan Carlos; Ballesteros, Fernando; Alcaraz, Lourdes ; Palomero, Guillermo; Doadrio, Ignacio
Gene flow
Cantabrian brown bear
Ursus arctos
Conservation biology
Issue Date28-Apr-2016
CitationPeerJ 4: e1928 (2016)
AbstractThe brown bear Ursus arctos L., 1758 population of the Cantabrian Mountains (northwestern Spain) became isolated from other bear populations in Europe about 500 years ago and has declined due to hunting and habitat degradation. At the beginning of the 20th century, the Cantabrian population split into eastern and western subpopulations, and genetic exchange between them ceased. In the early 1990s, total population size was estimated to be < 100 bears. Subsequently, reduction in human-caused mortality has brought about an increase in numbers, mainly in the western subpopulation, likely promoting male-mediated migration and gene flow from the western nucleus to the eastern. To evaluate the possible genetic recovery of the small and genetically depauperate eastern subpopulation, in 2013 and 2014 we genotyped hair and faeces samples (116 from the eastern subpopulation and 36 from the western) for 18 microsatellite markers. Data from the annual count of females with cubs of the year (COY) during the past twenty-six years was used to analyze demographic changes. The number of females with COY fell to a minimum of seven in the western and three in eastern subpopulations in the biennium 1993¿1994 and reached a respective maximum of 54 and 10 individuals in 2013¿2014. We also observed increased bear dispersal and gene flow, mainly from the western to the eastern subpopulation. Of the 26 unique genotypes detected in the eastern subpopulation, 14 (54%) presented an admixture composition, and seven (27%) were determined to be migrants from the western subpopulation. Hence, the two separated and clearly structured subpopulations identified in the past currently show some degree of genetic admixture. This research shows the partial demographic recovery and a change in genetic composition due to migration process in a population of bears that has been isolated for several centuries
Identifiersdoi: 10.7717/peerj.1928
e-issn: 2167-8359
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