Cahill JA, Stirling I, Kistler L, Salamzade R, Ersmark E, Fulton TL, Stiller M, Green RE, Shapiro B
Polar bears are an arctic, marine adapted species that is closely related to brown bears. Genome analyses have shown that polar bears are distinct and genetically homogeneous in comparison to brown bears. However, these analyses have also revealed a remarkable episode of polar bear gene flow into the population of brown bears that colonized the Admiralty, Baranof, and Chichagof Islands (ABC Islands) of Alaska. Here, we present an analysis of data from a large panel of polar bear and brown bear genomes that includes brown bears from the ABC Islands, the Alaskan mainland and Europe. Our results provide clear evidence that gene flow between the two species had a geographically wide impact, with polar bear DNA found within the genomes of brown bears living both on the ABC Islands and in the Alaskan mainland. Intriguingly, while brown bear genomes contain up to 8.8% polar bear ancestry, polar bear genomes appear to be devoid of brown bear ancestry, suggesting the presence of a barrier to gene flow in that direction. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.