, Volume 58, Issue 3, pp 511-522
Date: 07 Dec 2011

Genetic diversity, structure, and size of an endangered brown bear population threatened by highway construction in the Pindos Mountains, Greece

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One of the major negative effects of roads is the creation of barriers to the movement of wildlife, ultimately disconnecting populations and increasing extinction risk. We collected genetic data from a threatened brown bear population in the central part of the Pindos mountain range in northwestern Greece to provide information about this, as yet genetically undescribed, population and to evaluate its status prior to the construction of a major highway. We used noninvasive genetic sampling methods and microsatellite analysis to investigate nuclear genetic diversity, population genetic structure, demographic history, relatedness within the population and estimated effective and total population size. Brown bears in the study area were found to possess a relatively high level of nuclear genetic diversity and low levels of inbreeding; the population did not show any signs of substructuring but seems to have gone through a genetic bottleneck in the recent past. The estimated effective population size was 29, and the total population size estimate obtained by two different methods was 33 and 51 individuals, respectively. Our results indicate a good conservation status of this bear population and provide baseline genetic data for the future evaluation of the effects on bears from the construction of a major highway, for monitoring the genetic status of this and other bear populations in Greece and for assessing gene flow in bear populations in southern Europe.

Communicated by C. Gortázar