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New Black Bear Genetic Maps May Aid Conservation Efforts

First Posted: May 22, 2015 07:50 AM EDT

Last year, researchers examined the genetic diversity of American black bears in Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma. Now, scientists have expanded the study to include black bears throughout North America and have found a bit more about the genetics of these bears.

"This is the first genomics study of black bears across their range," said Emily Puckett, one of the researchers, in a news release. "Using advanced nuclear genomics, the team delineated three geographic lineages of bears in the western eastern regions of North America and in Alaska. After identifying the three lineages, the team delineated them into nine geographically relevant regional clusters to better understand the relationships of populations within each cluster."

In this particular genetics study, the researchers performed nuclear genomic testing by analyzing the nuclear genome that carries vastly more genes and information about a species. The team received more than 500 black bear DNA samples from wildlife agencies, universities and other private partners.

"With the information gleaned from nuclear genomics, scientists are able to put a finer point on inheritance and lineages," said Puckett. "By doing so, we were able to trace lineages through black bears in these geographically diverse regions and through maternal and paternal lines showing evolution. As we began pinpointing these findings, it led to exceptional maps of genetic clusters we'd not previously seen and even ancient migration patterns of black bears.

What's interesting is that researchers now know how bears are related across different geographical ranges. This may allow them to better understand functional adaptations, such as hibernation characteristics. In addition, the findings can help inform conservation management teams.

The findings are published in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution.

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