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Concept: Bear


Knut the polar bear of the Berlin Zoological Garden drowned in 2011 following seizures and was diagnosed as having suffered encephalitis of unknown etiology after exhaustive pathogen screening. Using the diagnostic criteria applied to human patients, we demonstrate that Knut’s encephalitis is almost identical to anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis which is a severe autoimmune disease representing the most common non-infectious encephalitis in humans. High concentrations of antibodies specific against the NR1 subunit of the NMDA receptor were detected in Knut’s cerebrospinal fluid. Histological examination demonstrated very similar patterns of plasma cell infiltration and minimal neuronal loss in affected brain areas. We conclude that Knut suffered anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis making his the first reported non-human case of this treatable disease. The results suggest that anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis may be a disease of broad relevance to mammals that until now has remained undiagnosed.

Concepts: Mammal, Human, Bear, NMDA receptor, Greek loanwords, Medicine, Medical terms, Polar bear


In the first ever systematic genetic survey, we have used rigorous decontamination followed by mitochondrial 12S RNA sequencing to identify the species origin of 30 hair samples attributed to anomalous primates. Two Himalayan samples, one from Ladakh, India, the other from Bhutan, had their closest genetic affinity with a Palaeolithic polar bear, Ursus maritimus. Otherwise the hairs were from a range of known extant mammals.

Concepts: Polar Beverages, Gene, DNA, Molecular biology, Himalayas, Bear, Mammal, Polar bear


Scientific management of wildlife requires confronting the complexities of natural and social systems. Uncertainty poses a central problem. Whereas the importance of considering uncertainty has been widely discussed, studies of the effects of unaddressed uncertainty on real management systems have been rare. We examined the effects of outcome uncertainty and components of biological uncertainty on hunt management performance, illustrated with grizzly bears (Ursus arctos horribilis) in British Columbia, Canada. We found that both forms of uncertainty can have serious impacts on management performance. Outcome uncertainty alone - discrepancy between expected and realized mortality levels - led to excess mortality in 19% of cases (population-years) examined. Accounting for uncertainty around estimated biological parameters (i.e., biological uncertainty) revealed that excess mortality might have occurred in up to 70% of cases. We offer a general method for identifying targets for exploited species that incorporates uncertainty and maintains the probability of exceeding mortality limits below specified thresholds. Setting targets in our focal system using this method at thresholds of 25% and 5% probability of overmortality would require average target mortality reductions of 47% and 81%, respectively. Application of our transparent and generalizable framework to this or other systems could improve management performance in the presence of uncertainty.

Concepts: Hunting, Yellowstone National Park, Montana, Banff National Park, Bears, British Columbia, Bear, Grizzly Bear


The phylogenetic position of the giant panda, Ailuropoda melanoleuca (Carnivora: Ursidae: Ailuropodinae), has been one of the most hotly debated topics by mammalian biologists and paleontologists during the last century. Based on molecular data, it is currently recognized as a true ursid, sister-taxon of the remaining extant bears, from which it would have diverged by the Early Miocene. However, from a paleobiogeographic and chronological perspective, the origin of the giant panda lineage has remained elusive due to the scarcity of the available Miocene fossil record. Until recently, the genus Ailurarctos from the Late Miocene of China (ca. 8-7 mya) was recognized as the oldest undoubted member of the Ailuropodinae, suggesting that the panda lineage might have originated from an Ursavus ancestor. The role of the purported ailuropodine Agriarctos, from the Miocene of Europe, in the origins of this clade has been generally dismissed due to the paucity of the available material. Here, we describe a new ailuropodine genus, Kretzoiarctos gen. nov., based on remains from two Middle Miocene (ca. 12-11 Ma) Spanish localities. A cladistic analysis of fossil and extant members of the Ursoidea confirms the inclusion of the new genus into the Ailuropodinae. Moreover, Kretzoiarctos precedes in time the previously-known, Late Miocene members of the giant panda clade from Eurasia (Agriarctos and Ailurarctos). The former can be therefore considered the oldest recorded member of the giant panda lineage, which has significant implications for understanding the origins of this clade from a paleobiogeographic viewpoint.

Concepts: Red Panda, Phylogenetics, Ailuridae, Qinling Panda, Carnivora, Ailuropoda, Bear, Giant Panda


Bears are iconic mammals with a complex evolutionary history. Natural bear hybrids and studies of few nuclear genes indicate that gene flow among bears may be more common than expected and not limited to polar and brown bears. Here we present a genome analysis of the bear family with representatives of all living species. Phylogenomic analyses of 869 mega base pairs divided into 18,621 genome fragments yielded a well-resolved coalescent species tree despite signals for extensive gene flow across species. However, genome analyses using different statistical methods show that gene flow is not limited to closely related species pairs. Strong ancestral gene flow between the Asiatic black bear and the ancestor to polar, brown and American black bear explains uncertainties in reconstructing the bear phylogeny. Gene flow across the bear clade may be mediated by intermediate species such as the geographically wide-spread brown bears leading to large amounts of phylogenetic conflict. Genome-scale analyses lead to a more complete understanding of complex evolutionary processes. Evidence for extensive inter-specific gene flow, found also in other animal species, necessitates shifting the attention from speciation processes achieving genome-wide reproductive isolation to the selective processes that maintain species divergence in the face of gene flow.

Concepts: Genetics, Biology, Bear, Organism, DNA, Species, Gene, Evolution


BACKGROUND: The influence of policy on the incidence of human-wildlife conflict can be complex and not entirely anticipated. Policies for managing bear hunter success and depredation on hunting dogs by wolves represent an important case because with increasing wolves, depredations are expected to increase. This case is challenging because compensation for wolf depredation on hunting dogs as compared to livestock is less common and more likely to be opposed. Therefore, actions that minimize the likelihood of such conflicts are a conservation need. METHODOLOGYPRINCIPAL FINDINGS: We used data from two US states with similar wolf populations but markedly different wolf/hunting dog depredation patterns to examine the influence of bear hunting regulations, bear hunter to wolf ratios, hunter method, and hunter effort on wolf depredation trends. Results indicated that the ratio of bear hunting permits sold per wolf, and hunter method are important factors affecting wolf depredation trends in the Upper Great Lakes region, but strong differences exist between Michigan and Wisconsin related in part to the timing and duration of bear-baiting (i.e., free feeding). The probability that a wolf depredated a bear-hunting dog increases with the duration of bear-baiting, resulting in a relative risk of depredation 2.12-7.22× greater in Wisconsin than Michigan. The net effect of compensation for hunting dog depredation in Wisconsin may also contribute to the difference between states. CONCLUSIONSSIGNIFICANCE: These results identified a potential tradeoff between bear hunting success and wolf/bear-hunting dog conflict. These results indicate that management options to minimize conflict exist, such as adjusting baiting regulations. If reducing depredations is an important goal, this analysis indicates that actions aside from (or in addition to) reducing wolf abundance might achieve that goal. This study also stresses the need to better understand the relationship among baiting practices, the effect of compensation on hunter behavior, and depredation occurrence.

Concepts: Coyote, Raid, Gray Wolf, Hunting dog, Bear, Ratio, Hunting, Dog


Loss of Arctic sea ice owing to climate change is the primary threat to polar bears throughout their range. We evaluated the potential response of polar bears to sea-ice declines by (i) calculating generation length (GL) for the species, which determines the timeframe for conservation assessments; (ii) developing a standardized sea-ice metric representing important habitat; and (iii) using statistical models and computer simulation to project changes in the global population under three approaches relating polar bear abundance to sea ice. Mean GL was 11.5 years. Ice-covered days declined in all subpopulation areas during 1979-2014 (median -1.26 days year(-1)). The estimated probabilities that reductions in the mean global population size of polar bears will be greater than 30%, 50% and 80% over three generations (35-41 years) were 0.71 (range 0.20-0.95), 0.07 (range 0-0.35) and less than 0.01 (range 0-0.02), respectively. According to IUCN Red List reduction thresholds, which provide a common measure of extinction risk across taxa, these results are consistent with listing the species as vulnerable. Our findings support the potential for large declines in polar bear numbers owing to sea-ice loss, and highlight near-term uncertainty in statistical projections as well as the sensitivity of projections to different plausible assumptions.

Concepts: Pinniped, IUCN Red List, Arctic Ocean, Arctic shrinkage, Arctic, Bear, Sea ice, Polar bear


The giant panda evolved from omnivorous bears. It lives on a bamboo-dominated diet at present, but it still retains a typical carnivorous digestive system and is genetically deficient in cellulose-digesting enzymes. To find out whether this endangered mammalian species, like other herbivores, has successfully developed a gut microbiota adapted to its fiber-rich diet, we conducted a 16S rRNA gene-based large-scale structural profiling of the giant panda fecal microbiota. Forty-five captive individuals were sampled in spring, summer, and late autumn within 1 year. Significant intraindividual variations in the diversity and structure of gut microbiota across seasons were observed in this population, which were even greater than the variations between individuals. Compared with published data sets involving 124 gut microbiota profiles from 54 mammalian species, these giant pandas, together with 9 captive and 7 wild individuals investigated previously, showed extremely low gut microbiota diversity and an overall structure that diverged from those of nonpanda herbivores but converged with those of carnivorous and omnivorous bears. The giant panda did not harbor putative cellulose-degrading phylotypes such as Ruminococcaceae and Bacteroides bacteria that are typically enriched in other herbivores, but instead, its microbiota was dominated by Escherichia/Shigella and Streptococcus bacteria. Members of the class Clostridia were common and abundant in the giant panda gut microbiota, but most of the members present were absent in other herbivores and were not phylogenetically related with known cellulolytic lineages. Therefore, the giant panda appears not to have evolved a gut microbiota compatible with its newly adopted diet, which may adversely influence the coevolutionary fitness of this herbivore.

Concepts: Bear, Omnivore, Endangered species, Animal, Gut flora, Bacteria, Carnivora, Giant Panda


Hibernation is an adaptation that helps many animals to conserve energy during food shortage in winter. Brown bears double their fat depots during summer and use these stored lipids during hibernation. Although bears seasonally become obese, they remain metabolically healthy. We analyzed the microbiota of free-ranging brown bears during their active phase and hibernation. Compared to the active phase, hibernation microbiota had reduced diversity, reduced levels of Firmicutes and Actinobacteria, and increased levels of Bacteroidetes. Several metabolites involved in lipid metabolism, including triglycerides, cholesterol, and bile acids, were also affected by hibernation. Transplantation of the bear microbiota from summer and winter to germ-free mice transferred some of the seasonal metabolic features and demonstrated that the summer microbiota promoted adiposity without impairing glucose tolerance, suggesting that seasonal variation in the microbiota may contribute to host energy metabolism in the hibernating brown bear.

Concepts: Hibernation, Adenosine triphosphate, Bacteria, Gut flora, Brown Bear, Nutrition, Bear, Metabolism


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