Implications of the Circumpolar Genetic Structure of Polar Bears for Their Conservation in a Rapidly Warming Arctic

PLoS ONE (Jan. 6, 2015; doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0112021) / by Elizabeth Peacock, et al.

[From USGS Press Release] In a new polar bear study published today, scientists from around the Arctic have shown that recent generations of polar bears are moving towards areas with more persistent year-round sea ice.

Research scientists, led by the U.S. Geological Survey, found that the 19 recognized subpopulations of polar bears group into four genetically-similar clusters, corresponding to ecological and oceanographic factors. These four clusters are the Eastern Polar Basin, Western Polar Basin, Canadian Archipelago, and Southern Canada.

The scientists also detected directional gene flow towards the Canadian Archipelago within the last 1-3 generations. Gene flow of this type can result from populations expanding and contracting at different rates or directional movement and mating ove.r generations. The findings of spatial structure (clusters) and directional gene flow are important because they support the hypothesis that the species is coalescing to the region of the Arctic most likely to retain sea ice into the future…

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