Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: American Black Bear


Polar bears (PBs) are superbly adapted to the extreme Arctic environment and have become emblematic of the threat to biodiversity from global climate change. Their divergence from the lower-latitude brown bear provides a textbook example of rapid evolution of distinct phenotypes. However, limited mitochondrial and nuclear DNA evidence conflicts in the timing of PB origin as well as placement of the species within versus sister to the brown bear lineage. We gathered extensive genomic sequence data from contemporary polar, brown, and American black bear samples, in addition to a 130,000- to 110,000-y old PB, to examine this problem from a genome-wide perspective. Nuclear DNA markers reflect a species tree consistent with expectation, showing polar and brown bears to be sister species. However, for the enigmatic brown bears native to Alaska’s Alexander Archipelago, we estimate that not only their mitochondrial genome, but also 5-10% of their nuclear genome, is most closely related to PBs, indicating ancient admixture between the two species. Explicit admixture analyses are consistent with ancient splits among PBs, brown bears and black bears that were later followed by occasional admixture. We also provide paleodemographic estimates that suggest bear evolution has tracked key climate events, and that PB in particular experienced a prolonged and dramatic decline in its effective population size during the last ca. 500,000 years. We demonstrate that brown bears and PBs have had sufficiently independent evolutionary histories over the last 4-5 million years to leave imprints in the PB nuclear genome that likely are associated with ecological adaptation to the Arctic environment.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Evolution, Genome, Arctic, Bear, American Black Bear, Polar bear


The skeletal remains of a small bear (Protarctos abstrusus) were collected at the Beaver Pond fossil site in the High Arctic (Ellesmere I., Nunavut). This mid-Pliocene deposit has also yielded 12 other mammals and the remains of a boreal-forest community. Phylogenetic analysis reveals this bear to be basal to modern bears. It appears to represent an immigration event from Asia, leaving no living North American descendants. The dentition shows only modest specialization for herbivory, consistent with its basal position within Ursinae. However, the appearance of dental caries suggest a diet high in fermentable-carbohydrates. Fossil plants remains, including diverse berries, suggests that, like modern northern black bears, P. abstrusus may have exploited a high-sugar diet in the fall to promote fat accumulation and facilitate hibernation. A tendency toward a sugar-rich diet appears to have arisen early in Ursinae, and may have played a role in allowing ursine lineages to occupy cold habitats.

Concepts: Dental caries, Arctic, Carnivora, Pliocene, Bear, American Black Bear, Hibernation, Polar bear


Despite extensive genetic analysis, the evolutionary relationship between polar bears (Ursus maritimus) and brown bears (U. arctos) remains unclear. The two most recent comprehensive reports indicate a recent divergence with little subsequent admixture or a much more ancient divergence followed by extensive admixture. At the center of this controversy are the Alaskan ABC Islands brown bears that show evidence of shared ancestry with polar bears. We present an analysis of genome-wide sequence data for seven polar bears, one ABC Islands brown bear, one mainland Alaskan brown bear, and a black bear (U. americanus), plus recently published datasets from other bears. Surprisingly, we find clear evidence for gene flow from polar bears into ABC Islands brown bears but no evidence of gene flow from brown bears into polar bears. Importantly, while polar bears contributed <1% of the autosomal genome of the ABC Islands brown bear, they contributed 6.5% of the X chromosome. The magnitude of sex-biased polar bear ancestry and the clear direction of gene flow suggest a model wherein the enigmatic ABC Island brown bears are the descendants of a polar bear population that was gradually converted into brown bears via male-dominated brown bear admixture. We present a model that reconciles heretofore conflicting genetic observations. We posit that the enigmatic ABC Islands brown bears derive from a population of polar bears likely stranded by the receding ice at the end of the last glacial period. Since then, male brown bear migration onto the island has gradually converted these bears into an admixed population whose phenotype and genotype are principally brown bear, except at mtDNA and X-linked loci. This process of genome erosion and conversion may be a common outcome when climate change or other forces cause a population to become isolated and then overrun by species with which it can hybridize.

Concepts: Gene, Genetics, Bear, American Black Bear, Brown Bear, Polar bear, Bears, Ursus


Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have the potential to revolutionize the way research is conducted in many scientific fields [1, 2]. UAVs can access remote or difficult terrain [3], collect large amounts of data for lower cost than traditional aerial methods, and facilitate observations of species that are wary of human presence [4]. Currently, despite large regulatory hurdles [5], UAVs are being deployed by researchers and conservationists to monitor threats to biodiversity [6], collect frequent aerial imagery [7-9], estimate population abundance [4, 10], and deter poaching [11]. Studies have examined the behavioral responses of wildlife to aircraft [12-20] (including UAVs [21]), but with the widespread increase in UAV flights, it is critical to understand whether UAVs act as stressors to wildlife and to quantify that impact. Biologger technology allows for the remote monitoring of stress responses in free-roaming individuals [22], and when linked to locational information, it can be used to determine events [19, 23, 24] or components of an animal’s environment [25] that elicit a physiological response not apparent based on behavior alone. We assessed effects of UAV flights on movements and heart rate responses of free-roaming American black bears. We observed consistently strong physiological responses but infrequent behavioral changes. All bears, including an individual denned for hibernation, responded to UAV flights with elevated heart rates, rising as much as 123 beats per minute above the pre-flight baseline. It is important to consider the additional stress on wildlife from UAV flights when developing regulations and best scientific practices.

Concepts: Physiology, Heart rate, American Black Bear, Fixed-wing aircraft, Unmanned aerial vehicle, Helicopter, Unmanned vehicles


Human-wildlife conflicts impose considerable costs to people and wildlife worldwide. Most research focuses on proximate causes, offering limited generalizable understanding of ultimate drivers. We tested three competing hypotheses (problem individuals, regional population saturation, limited food supply) that relate to underlying processes of human-grizzly bear (Ursus arctos horribilis) conflict, using data from British Columbia, Canada, between 1960-2014. We found most support for the limited food supply hypothesis: in bear populations that feed on spawning salmon (Oncorhynchus spp.), the annual number of bears/km(2) killed due to conflicts with humans increased by an average of 20% (6-32% [95% CI]) for each 50% decrease in annual salmon biomass. Furthermore, we found that across all bear populations (with or without access to salmon), 81% of attacks on humans and 82% of conflict kills occurred after the approximate onset of hyperphagia (July 1(st)), a period of intense caloric demand. Contrary to practices by many management agencies, conflict frequency was not reduced by hunting or removal of problem individuals. Our finding that a marine resource affects terrestrial conflict suggests that evidence-based policy for reducing harm to wildlife and humans requires not only insight into ultimate drivers of conflict, but also management that spans ecosystem and jurisdictional boundaries.

Concepts: Hunting, World population, British Columbia, Bear, American Black Bear, Brown Bear, Bears, Grizzly Bear


Species' distributions are influenced by a combination of landscape variables and biotic interactions with other species, including people. Grizzly bears and black bears are sympatric, competing omnivores that also share habitats with human recreationists. By adapting models for multi-species occupancy analysis, we analyzed trail camera data from 192 trail camera locations in and around Jasper National Park, Canada to estimate grizzly bear and black bear occurrence and intensity of trail use. We documented (a) occurrence of grizzly bears and black bears relative to habitat variables (b) occurrence and intensity of use relative to competing bear species and motorised and non-motorised recreational activity, and © temporal overlap in activity patterns among the two bear species and recreationists. Grizzly bears were spatially separated from black bears, selecting higher elevations and locations farther from roads. Both species co-occurred with motorised and non-motorised recreation, however, grizzly bears reduced their intensity of use of sites with motorised recreation present. Black bears showed higher temporal activity overlap with recreational activity than grizzly bears, however differences in bear daily activity patterns between sites with and without motorised and non-motorised recreation were not significant. Reduced intensity of use by grizzly bears of sites where motorised recreation was present is a concern given off-road recreation is becoming increasingly popular in North America, and can negatively influence grizzly bear recovery by reducing foraging opportunities near or on trails. Camera traps and multi-species occurrence models offer non-invasive methods for identifying how habitat use by animals changes relative to sympatric species, including humans. These conclusions emphasise the need for integrated land-use planning, access management, and grizzly bear conservation efforts to consider the implications of continued access for motorised recreation in areas occupied by grizzly bears.

Concepts: Human, British Columbia, Bear, American Black Bear, Bears, Recreation, Grizzly Bear, Banff National Park


Increasing global demands have resulted in widespread proliferation of resource extraction. Scientists are challenged to develop environmental mitigation strategies that meet societal expectations of resource supply, while achieving minimal disruption to sensitive “wilderness” species. We used GPS collar data from a 9-year study on grizzly bears (Ursus arctos) (n = 18) in Alberta, Canada to assess movements and associated space use during versus after mining. Grizzly bear home range overlap with mined areas was lower during active mining except for females with cubs, that also had shortest movements on active mines. However, both females with cubs and males made shorter steps when on/close to mines following mine closure and reclamation. Our results show differences in bear movement and space-use strategies, with individuals from a key population segment (females with cubs) appearing most adaptable to mining disturbance. Preserving patches of original habitat, reclaiming the landscape and minimizing the risk of direct human-induced mortality during and after development can help conserve bears and other wildlife on industrially modified landscapes.

Concepts: Mining, Bear, American Black Bear, Brown Bear, Polar bear, Bears, Grizzly Bear


Roads can fragment and isolate wildlife populations, which will eventually decrease genetic diversity within populations. Wildlife crossing structures may counteract these impacts, but most crossings are relatively new, and there is little evidence that they facilitate gene flow. We conducted a three-year research project in Banff National Park, Alberta, to evaluate the effectiveness of wildlife crossings to provide genetic connectivity. Our main objective was to determine how the Trans-Canada Highway and crossing structures along it affect gene flow in grizzly (Ursus arctos) and black bears (Ursus americanus). We compared genetic data generated from wildlife crossings with data collected from greater bear populations. We detected a genetic discontinuity at the highway in grizzly bears but not in black bears. We assigned grizzly bears that used crossings to populations north and south of the highway, providing evidence of bidirectional gene flow and genetic admixture. Parentage tests showed that 47% of black bears and 27% of grizzly bears that used crossings successfully bred, including multiple males and females of both species. Differentiating between dispersal and gene flow is difficult, but we documented gene flow by showing migration, reproduction and genetic admixture. We conclude that wildlife crossings allow sufficient gene flow to prevent genetic isolation.

Concepts: Trans-Canada Highway, British Columbia, Bear, American Black Bear, Brown Bear, Bears, Grizzly Bear, Banff National Park


The processes leading to genetic isolation influence a population’s local extinction risk, and should thus be identified before conservation actions are implemented. Natural or human-induced circumstances can result in historical or contemporary barriers to gene flow and/or demographic bottlenecks. Distinguishing between these hypotheses can be achieved by comparing genetic diversity and differentiation in isolated vs. continuous neighboring populations. In Ontario, American black bears (Ursus americanus) are continuously distributed, genetically diverse, and exhibit an isolation-by-distance structuring pattern, except on the Bruce Peninsula (BP). To identify the processes that led to the genetic isolation of BP black bears, we modelled various levels of historical and contemporary migration and population size reductions using forward simulations. We compared simulation results with empirical genetic indices from Ontario black bear populations under different levels of geographic isolation, and conducted additional simulations to determine if translocations could help achieve genetic restoration. From a genetic standpoint, conservation concerns for BP black bears are warranted because our results show that: i) a recent demographic bottleneck associated with recently reduced migration best explains the low genetic diversity on the BP; and ii) under sustained isolation, BP black bears could lose between 70% and 80% of their rare alleles within 100 years. Although restoring migration corridors would be the most effective method to enhance long-term genetic diversity and prevent inbreeding, it is unrealistic to expect connectivity to be re-established. Current levels of genetic diversity could be maintained by successfully translocating 10 bears onto the peninsula every 5 years. Such regular translocations may be more practical than landscape restoration, because areas connecting the peninsula to nearby mainland black bear populations have been irreversibly modified by humans, and form strong barriers to movement.

Concepts: Genetics, Evolution, Demography, Population genetics, Extinction, Bear, American Black Bear, Ursus


Many animals have been tested for conceptual discriminations using two-dimensional images as stimuli, and many of these species appear to transfer knowledge from 2D images to analogous real life objects. We tested an American black bear for picture-object recognition using a two alternative forced choice task. She was presented with four unique sets of objects and corresponding pictures. The bear showed generalization from both objects to pictures and pictures to objects; however, her transfer was superior when transferring from real objects to pictures, suggesting that bears can recognize visual features from real objects within photographic images during discriminations.

Concepts: Computer graphics, IMAGE, Photography, Bear, American Black Bear, Bears, Ursus