We assessed mitochondrial DNA variation in North American black bears (Ursus americanus), brown bears (Ursus arctos), and polar bears (Ursus maritimus). Divergent mitochondrial DNA haplotypes (0.05 base substitutions per nucleotide) were identified in populations of black bears from Montana and Oregon. In contrast, very similar haplotypes occur in black bears across North America. This discordance of haplotype phylogeny and geographic distribution indicates that there has been maintenance of polymorphism and considerable gene flow throughout the history of the species. Intraspecific mitochondrial DNA sequence divergence in brown bears and polar bears is lower than in black bears. The two morphological forms of U. arctos, grizzly and coastal brown bears, are not in distinct mtDNA lineages. Interspecific comparisons indicate that brown bears and polar bears share similar mitochondrial DNA (0.023 base substitutions per nucleotide) which is quite divergent (0.078 base substitutions per nucleotide) from that of black bears. High mitochondrial DNA divergence within black bears and paraphyletic relationships of brown and polar bear mitochondrial DNA indicate that intraspecific variation across species' ranges should be considered in phylogenetic analyses of mitochondrial DNA.
Additional publication details
Inter- and intraspecific mitochondrial DNA variation in North American bears (Ursus)