, Volume 13, Issue 3, pp 681-692
Date: 17 Jan 2012

Connectivity and population subdivision at the fringe of a large brown bear (Ursus arctos) population in North Western Europe

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Loss of connectivity and habitat destruction may lead to genetic depletion of wild animal populations, especially in species requiring large, connected territories as the brown bear (Ursus arctos). Brown bear populations of North Western Russia, Finland and Northern Norway have been assumed to form one large, continuous population; however this hypothesis has not been tested sufficiently. We have genotyped 1,887 samples from 2005 to 2008 from four distinct areas and used the resulting DNA profiles from 146 different individuals to analyze the genetic diversity, population structure, and the migration rates among groups. In addition, we have tested for traces of previous genetic bottlenecks. Individuals from Eastern Finland and Russian Karelia were grouped in the same cluster (“Karelia”), while distinctive subpopulations of brown bears were detected in the north (“Pasvik”), and the east (“Pinega”). All three subpopulations displayed high genetic variation, with expected heterozygosities (H E) of 0.77–0.81, but differentiation among the clusters was relatively low (average F ST = 0.051, P < 0.001). No evidence of genetic bottlenecks in the past was found. We detected a highly significant isolation-by-distance (IBD) pattern. For Pasvik, self-recruitment was found to be very high (96%), pointing to the possibility of genetic isolation. In contrast, between Karelia and Pinega we detected high, bi-directional migration rates (~30%), indicating genetic exchange. Conclusively, despite of a substantial influence of IBD on the genetic structure in the region, we detected considerable variation in connectivity among the identified clusters that could not be explained solely by the distance between them.