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Gwen Noda

Polar Bears Rooted in Ireland - 0 views

    Polar Bears Rooted in Ireland

    Polar bears and brown bears were separate species by 110,000 years ago. But new genetic studies of fossils and modern bears have revealed some hanky-panky 45,000 years ago, when polar bears interbred with now-extinct Irish brown bears.

    Hybridization with brown bears is a concern today because declining sea ice cover is forcing polar bears to extend their range and come into contact with brown bears. To understand the implications of hybridization, Beth Shapiro, an evolutionary biologist at Pennsylvania State University, University Park, and her colleagues compared mitochondrial DNA from 8000-year-old polar bear fossils, modern samples of polar bears, and ancient Irish bear fossils.

    Modern polar bear mitochondrial DNA was most similar to that of the extinct Irish brown bear, whereas extinct polar bears had different mitochondria. Thus modern polar bears come from Europe, not islands between Alaska and Siberia, as had been previously thought, the researchers reported in Current Biology.

    The finding shows that interbreeding occurred during past episodes of climate change didn't destroy a species. "The big question for conservation of polar bears is if hybridization occurs rapidly and in combination with other stressors, will that hybridization have more of a negative effect now than it did in the past," says Andrew Whiteley, a geneticist at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
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