, Volume 10, Issue 2, pp 291-301
Date: 05 Apr 2008

Non-invasive genetic study of the endangered Cantabrian brown bear (Ursus arctos)

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The Brown Bear (Ursus arctos) population present in the Cantabrian Mountains has suffered a dramatic decline in recent centuries and is now threatened with extinction. This situation has led to the development and implementation of a species recovery plan. To accomplish this plan, we need to improve our knowledge about the ecology, demography and genetics of this population. This paper presents the genetic analysis of the Cantabrian brown bear population using non-invasive samples (faeces and hairs) collected between 2004 and 2006. It was necessary to optimize a set of 18 microsatellite loci and a sex marker (several new multiplex reactions were developed) to obtain a suitable probability of identity among genotypes to work with this small, deeply structured population. Genotyping of 48 individuals was carried out using a two-step PCR protocol to increase the quality of the multilocus genotypes. Validation of genotypes was performed using a multi-tube approach combined with different software programmes to measure their error rate and reliability. Diversity in the Cantabrian population was low (H e = 0.51) and the population was markedly subdivided into two subpopulations (western and eastern) without current gene flow between them. The level of divergence between the two subpopulations (F st = 0.41) and the extremely low diversity in the eastern group (H e = 0.25) indicate that this has had an extremely low effective population size and had been isolated from the main group during the last century. Connectivity between the two subpopulations will be of prime importance for the long-term survival of this species in the Cantabrian Mountains.