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Tracking the origins of the cave bear (Ursus spelaeus) by mitochondrial DNA sequencing.

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  • Research Article
  • Biology
  • Earth Science


The different European populations of Ursus arctos, the brown bear, were recently studied for mitochondrial DNA polymorphism. Two clearly distinct lineages (eastern and western) were found, which may have diverged approximately 850,000 years ago. In this context, it was interesting to study the cave bear, Ursus spelaeus, a species which became extinct 20,000 years ago. In this study, we have amplified and sequenced a fragment of 139-bp in the mitochondrial DNA control region of a 40,000-year-old specimen of U. spelaeus. Phylogenetic reconstructions using this sequence and the European brown bear sequences already published suggest that U. spelaeus diverged from an early offshoot of U. arctos--i.e., approximately at the same time as the divergence of the two main lineages of U. arctos. This divergence probably took place at the earliest glaciation, likely due to geographic separation during the earlier Quaternary cold periods. This result is in agreement with the paleontological data available and suggests a good correspondence between molecular and morphological data.

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