Genetic diversity of Dinaric brown bears (Ursus arctos) in Croatia with implications for bear conservation in Europe
Brown bears have lost most of their range on the European continent. The remaining western populations are small, isolated and highly endangered. The Dinaric-Pindos brown bear population is the western-most stable population and the fourth largest in Europe. It has been recognized as a potential source for recolonization of populations whose survival is at risk. Indeed, several translocations of Dinaric bears to Italy, Austria and France have recently been made. Despite the importance of the Dinaric bear population, its genetic status remains poorly understood. Using tissue samples from 156 hunted or accidentally killed Dinaric bears in Croatia, this study analysed genetic diversity at 12 microsatellite loci, as well as population structure and past reductions in size. In addition, a subset of 59 samples was used to assess diversity of the mitochondrial DNA control region. The results indicate that Dinaric bears have high nuclear genetic diversity, as compared to other extant brown bear populations, despite genetic evidence of a bottleneck caused by past persecutions. However, haplotype diversity was low, probably as a result of male-biased dispersal and female philopatry. Not surprisingly, no evidence of population sub-structure was found using nuclear markers, as the bear habitat has remained continuous and the highway network has been built only recently. Management should focus on maintaining habitat connectivity and keeping the effective population size as large as possible. In addition, when removing individuals, care should be taken not to further deplete the population of rare haplotypes. A coordinated transboundary management of the entire Dinaric-Pindos brown bear population should be a priority for its long-term conservation.
KeywordsUrsus arctos Dinaric brown bears Genetic diversity Management Conservation
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