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Mol Ecol. 2002 Apr;11(4):685-97.

Genetic diversity and differentiation of Kermode bear populations.

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Department of Forest Sciences, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada V6T 1Z4.


The Kermode bear is a white phase of the North American black bear that occurs in low to moderate frequency on British Columbia's mid-coast. To investigate the genetic uniqueness of populations containing the white phase, and to ascertain levels of gene flow among populations, we surveyed 10 highly polymorphic microsatellite loci, assayed from trapped bear hairs. A total of 216 unique bear genotypes, 18 of which were white, was sampled among 12 localities. Island populations, where Kermodes are most frequent, show approximately 4% less diversity than mainland populations, and the island richest in white bears (Gribbell) exhibited substantial genetic isolation, with a mean pairwise FST of 0.14 with other localities. Among all localities, FST for the molecular variant underlying the coat-colour difference (A893G) was 0.223, which falls into the 95th percentile of the distribution of FST values among microsatellite alleles, suggestive of greater differentiation for coat colour than expected under neutrality. Control-region sequences confirm that Kermode bears are part of a coastal or western lineage of black bears whose existence predates the Wisconsin glaciation, but microsatellite variation gave no evidence of past population expansion. We conclude that Kermodism was established and is maintained in populations by a combination of genetic isolation and somewhat reduced population sizes in insular habitat, with the possible contribution of selective pressure and/or nonrandom mating.

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