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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2000 Feb 15;97(4):1651-4.

Population genetics of ice age brown bears.

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  • 1Department of Organismic Biology, University of California, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1606, USA.


The Pleistocene was a dynamic period for Holarctic mammal species, complicated by episodes of glaciation, local extinctions, and intercontinental migration. The genetic consequences of these events are difficult to resolve from the study of present-day populations. To provide a direct view of population genetics in the late Pleistocene, we measured mitochondrial DNA sequence variation in seven permafrost-preserved brown bear (Ursus arctos) specimens, dated from 14,000 to 42,000 years ago. Approximately 36,000 years ago, the Beringian brown bear population had a higher genetic diversity than any extant North American population, but by 15,000 years ago genetic diversity appears similar to the modern day. The older, genetically diverse, Beringian population contained sequences from three clades now restricted to local regions within North America, indicating that current phylogeographic patterns may provide misleading data for evolutionary studies and conservation management. The late Pleistocene phylogeographic data also indicate possible colonization routes to areas south of the Cordilleran ice sheet.

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