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Mol Phylogenet Evol. 1996 Jun;5(3):477-94.

Phylogeography of brown bears (Ursus arctos) of Alaska and paraphyly within the Ursidae.

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Institute of Arctic Biology, University of Alaska Fairbanks 99775-7000, USA.


Complete nucleotide sequences of the mitochondrial cytochrome b, tRNA(prolime), and tRNA(threonine) genes were described for 166 brown bears (Ursus arctos) from 10 geographic regions of Alaska to describe natural genetic variation, construct a molecular phylogeny, and evaluate classical taxonomies. DNA sequences of brown bears were compared to homologous sequences of the polar bear (maritimus) and of the sun bear (Helarctos malayanus), which was used as an outgroup. Parsimony and neighbor-joining methods each produced essentially identical phylogenetic trees that suggest two distinct clades of mtDNA for brown bears in Alaska: one composed only of bears that now reside on some of the islands of southeastern Alaska and the other which includes bears from all other regions of Alaska. The very close relationship of the polar bear to brown bears of the islands of southeastern Alaska as previously reported by us and the paraphyletic association of polar bears to brown bears reported by others have been reaffirmed with this much larger data set. A weak correlation is suggested between types of mtDNA and habitat preference by brown bears in Alaska. Our mtDNA data support some, but not all, of the currently designated subspecies of brown bears whose descriptions have been based essentially on morphology.

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