The black bear population of the White River National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) is adjacent to populations of black bear in Louisiana (Urusus americanus luteolus) which are listed as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Wildlife management plans can pose restrictions on bear harvests and timber extraction; therefore the management plan for the White River NWR is sensitive to subspecific classification of its bear population. The objective of this study was to analyze genetic variation in the White River NWR and seven adjacent populations of black bears to assess the subspecific affinity of the White River NWR population. Here we report the variation at seven microsatellite DNA loci among eight black bear populations. The patterns of genetic variation gave strong support for distinguishing a southern group of black bears comprised of the White River, Arkansas; Tensas River, Louisiana; Upper Atchafalaya, Louisiana; Lower Atchafalaya, Louisiana; and Alabama/Mississippi populations. Phylogenetic analysis of individual variation suggested that historical black bear introductions into Arkansas and Louisiana affected gene pools of certain southern receiving populations, but did not significantly change interpopulation relatedness. Phylogenetic inferences at both the population and individual levels support the hypothesis that the White River NWR population of black bears belongs to the U. a. luteolus subspecies.
Additional publication details
Subspecific affinity of black bears in the White River National Wildlife Refuge