Conservation Genetics

, Volume 13, Issue 3, pp 681–692 | Cite as

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

  • Alexander KopatzEmail author
  • Hans Geir Eiken
  • Snorre B. Hagen
  • Minna Ruokonen
  • Rodrigo Esparza-Salas
  • Julia Schregel
  • Ilpo Kojola
  • Martin E. Smith
  • Ingvild Wartiainen
  • Paul E. Aspholm
  • Steinar Wikan
  • Alexander M. Rykov
  • Olga Makarova
  • Natalia Polikarpova
  • Konstantin F. Tirronen
  • Pjotr I. Danilov
  • Jouni Aspi
Research Article


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.


Gene flow Isolation-by-distance Non-invasive genetic sampling Microsatellites Migration Population structure 



We thank Siv Grete Aarnes, Camilla Tobiassen, Mari Bergsvåg, Leif Ollila, Pekka Sulkava, Tuomo Ollila, Tanja Kyykkä, Bjørn Mentyjärvi, Espen Aarnes, Sari Magga, Matti Heino, Jari Ylönen, Alexander Mershiev, Vladimir V. Belkin, and Nikolai L. Rendakov for excellent assistance in the laboratory and the field. We also thank the moose hunters from Kainuu, Finland and the Finnish Hunters’ Association, The State Nature Inspectorate in Norway and all others that have contributed to collecting samples and for their collaboration. Financial support for this project has been provided by the Academy of Finland (Project No 116579 to JA), the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry in Finland, the Raili Korkka Scholarship (AK), The Norwegian Ministry of Environment, and the Directorate for Nature Management and the Finnmark County Governor’s Office in Norway.

Supplementary material

10592_2012_317_MOESM1_ESM.xlsx (59 kb)
Supporting information: The individual genotypes used in this study are accessible in the online version of this article. Table S1: Table with the individuals used, genotype, gender, and location. Supplementary material 1 (XLSX 58 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alexander Kopatz
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Hans Geir Eiken
    • 1
  • Snorre B. Hagen
    • 1
  • Minna Ruokonen
    • 2
  • Rodrigo Esparza-Salas
    • 2
  • Julia Schregel
    • 1
  • Ilpo Kojola
    • 3
  • Martin E. Smith
    • 1
  • Ingvild Wartiainen
    • 1
  • Paul E. Aspholm
    • 1
  • Steinar Wikan
    • 1
  • Alexander M. Rykov
    • 4
  • Olga Makarova
    • 5
  • Natalia Polikarpova
    • 5
  • Konstantin F. Tirronen
    • 6
  • Pjotr I. Danilov
    • 6
  • Jouni Aspi
    • 2
  1. 1.Bioforsk Soil and Environment, Svanhovd Norwegian Institute for Agricultural and Environmental ResearchSvanvikNorway
  2. 2.Department of BiologyUniversity of OuluOuluFinland
  3. 3.Finnish Game and Fisheries Research InstituteOulu Game and Fisheries ResearchOuluFinland
  4. 4.Pinezhsky Strict Nature ReservePinega, Arkhangelsk RegionRussia
  5. 5.Pasvik Strict Nature ReserveRajakoski, Murmansk RegionRussia
  6. 6.Institute of BiologyKarelian Research Centre of the Russian Academy of SciencePetrozavodskRussia

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