Living OrganismsAnimalia / Craniata / Mammalia / Carnivora / Ursidae / Ursus / Species:

< > SPECIES VARIATION with literature reports for the Brown bear - Ursus arctos: Use sub-contents list below, or simply scroll down the page to view findings.

SPECIES VARIATION - Editorial Comment

Editorial Comment

(Editorial Overview Text Replicated on Overall Species page - Ursus arctos - Brown bear)
  • There is considerable intraspecific variation and as many as 86 subspecies have been listed, but now only a few are recognised. The main subspecies are Ursus arctos arctos - Eurasian brown bear in Eurasia and Ursus arctos horribilis - Grizzly bear in North America. The Kodiak bear Ursus arctos middendorffi is often recognised as a separate North American subspecies.
  • Phylogeny based on mitochondrial DNA studies suggests five clades: Clade I from southern Scandinavia and southern Europe; Clade II from the ABC Islands; Clade III from eastern Europe, Asia and western Alaska; Clade IV from southern Canada and the lower 48 states of the USA; and Clade V from northern Canada and eastern Alaska. In Europe, in most countries only one clade is found but both are present in Romania. Within the western European populations there are three main maternal lineages.

To Top of Page
Go to general Brown bear page

Intraspecific Variation

Source Information

  • Subspecies include Ursus arctos nelsoni (Mexican grizzly bear), Ursus arctos pruinosus (Tibet, Mongolia), Ursus arctos isabellinus (mountains of Central Asia). (B147)
  • Eurasia: Ursus arctos arctos - Eurasian brown bear (B285.w4)
  • North America: Ursus arctos horribilis - Grizzly bear (B285.w4)
  • Kodiak, Afogan and Shuyak Islands (off Alaska): Ursus arctos middendorffi - Kodiak bear (B285.w4)
  • Ursus arctos middendorffi - Alaskan brown bear. (B180.w3)
  • Ursus arctos isabellinus may be smaller and paler than other races. (B392.8.w8)
  • Mitochondrial DNA analysis indicates that the population of bears in southern Europe and southern Scandinavia is different from the population in northern Scandinavia and Russia. (B147)
  • Rocky Mountains grizzly bears have hairs are white tipped hairs on the shoulders and back, giving a "grizzled" or "silvertip" appearance. (B147)
  • As many as 86 subspecies have been listed, but now only a few are recognised. In North America there may be only two to four extant subspecies: Ursus arctos horribilis (grizzly bear), Ursus arctos middendorffi (Kodiak bear) are well recognised, but Ursus arctos gyas (peninsular brown bears of the Alaskan coast) and Ursus arctos richardsoni (barren ground grizzly) are doubtful. Ursus arctos californicus (Californian grizzly) is probably extinct. (B406.36.w36)
  • (B490.26.w26)

Recognised subspecies (some extinct) include: [1993](D243)

  • Ursus arctos alascensis Merriam, 1896. Type locality "Unalaklil, Alaska."
  • Ursus arctos arctos Linnaeus, 1958. Type locality "Sweden."
  • Ursus arctos beringianus Middendorff, 1853. Type locality "Great Shantar Island, Sea of Okhotsk."
  • Ursus arctos californicus Merriam, 1896. Type locality "Monterey, California." (Extinct)
  • Ursus arctos collaris Cuvier and Geoffroy, 1824. Type locality "Siberia."
  • Ursus arctos dalli Merriam, 1896. Type locality "Yakutat Bay (NW side), Alaska."
  • Ursus arctos gyas Merriam, 1896. Type locality "Pavlof Bay, Alaska Peninsula, Alaska."
  • Ursus arctos horribilis Ord, 1815. Type locality "Missouri River, a little above mouth of Poplar River, northeastern Montana."
  • Ursus arctos isabellinus Horsfield, 1826. Type locality "mountains of Nepal."
  • Ursus arctos lasiotus Gray, 1867. Type locality "interior of northern China."
  • Ursus arctos middendorffi Merriam, 1896. Type locality "Kodiak Island, Alaska."
  • Ursus arctos pruinosus Blyth, 1954. Type locality "Lhasa, Tibet, China."
  • Ursus arctos sitkensis Merriam, 1896. Type locality "near Sitka, Alaska."
  • Ursus arctos stikeenensis Merriam, 1914. Type locality "Tatletuey Lake, near head of Skeena River, northern British Columbia, Canada."
  • Ursus arctos syriacus Hemprich and Ehrenberg, 1828. Type locality "near Bischerre village, Mt. Makel, Lebanon."

Suggested divisions based on genetic studies, and levels of genetic variation

  • Phylogeny based on mitochondial DNA studies does not support traditional taxonomic classifications such as Ursus arctos middendorffi, Ursus arctos horribilis or Ursus arctos gyas. These studies have found five mitochondrial DNA lineage groups (clades): Clade I from southern Scandinavia and southern Europe; Clade II from the ABC Islands; Clade III from eastern Europe, Asia and western Alaska; Clade IV from southern Canada and the lower 48 states of the USA; and Clade V from northern Canada and eastern Alaska. (B490.26.w26)
  • Mitochondrial DNA phylogeographic data suggested three significant groups within the USA: bears from Admiralty, Baranof and Chicagof islands of Alaska in one group (Clade I), bears of mainland Alaska, Kodiak Island and northern Canada in a second group (including bears from Clade II, from Kodiak Island and throughout mainland Alaska, and Clade III from extreme eastern Alaska, and Yukon and Northwestern Territories of Canada), and those of southern British Columbia and southern Alberta (Canada) together with those tested from Idaho, Montana and Wyoming (USA) (Clade IV). [1998](J57.12.w3)
  • A study of North American brown bears using eight highly variable nuclear microsatellite markers found northern populations in the core of the North American distribution had the highest levels of within-population genetic diversity, while populations at the southern fringe of the distribution, in the Northwest Territories, and in southwest Alaska showed significantly lower diversity and in the Yellowstone Ecosystem population diversity was still lower Additionally, there was a very low genetic diversity within the insular population on the Kodiak Archipelago. (J57.12.w4)
  • Phylogenetic analysis of mitochondrial (mt) DNA from brown bears in Europe found excellent agreement was found between geographic distribution of the bears and the mtDNA haplotypes, with two distinct lineages differing by more than 7% in mtDNA control region sequences (296 base pairs segment); within the western lineage there appear to be two clades corresponding to two different ancestral refugia: Iberian (bears from Abrizzo, Trentino, Slovenia, Bosnia, Croatia, Greece and Bulgaria) and Balkan (bears from the Cantabrian and Pyranean mountains and from southern Sweden and Norway). The eastern lineage is represented mainly by bears from Russia and Romania (large populations). (J179.255.w1)
  • In European bears the mitochondrian DNA gene pool is divided into two major clades, with a western and an eastern distribution; bears of both clades are found in brown bears in Romania. In northern Italy, in the Brenta area, bears belong to the western clade. (J335.4.w1)
  • Studies of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) diversity in European brown bears showed extremely low levels of genetic variation, and a population structure grouping the three northern subpopulations in one genetic clade while the southernmost subpopulation were grouped into a second, highly divergent clade. However, based on data from 19 nuclear DNA microsatellite loci, the four subpopulations of bears in Scandinavia have levels of genetic diversity equivalent to levels in populations in North America which have not been bottlenecked, and which are significantly higher than levels in other populations of brown bears which have been isolated and bottlenecked. The data indicate low to moderate levels of gene flow between subpopulations, which correlated with geographical distance between subpopulations. " Based on the results from the mtDNA and nuclear DNA data sets, we propose one evolutionarily significant unit and four management units for the brown bear in Scandinavia." (J335.9.w1)
  • Within the western European populations there are three main maternal lineages. Some of these appear to be fixed and monomorphic for different mitochondrial DNA haplotypes. (J406.73.w1)

To Top of Page
Go to general Brown bear page

Authors & Referees

Authors

Dr Debra Bourne MA VetMB PhD MRCVS (V.w5)

Referee

Djuro Huber (V.w101), Chuck Schwartz (V.w105)

To Top of Page
Go to general Brown bear page