Population genetics in Svalbard Polar bears
The polar bears of the World are divided into 19 more or less well defined populations. Polar bears in the Svalbard area were extensively hunted from 1870 and the population was severely depleted when they were protected in 1973. It is believed that the population now has
In the present project we infer the genetic structure of the Svalbard population based on more than 500 tissue samples of adult polar bears captured from 1987 to 2006 in addition to information on more than 1100 bears captured in the same period. Satellite telemetry studies have indicated two groups within our study area. Those groups were defined on the basis of two different space-use strategies which are believed to be learned by cubs from their mother. Those two groups are overlapping in the mating season. We are currently investigating if we are able to identify a mixture zone which could indicate that the two groups defined by differential space-use are genetically different. The Svalbard population might be a well defined population or might result from a recent mixture of genotypes. The population could have been as sink during the last century if over-harvesting lead to increased immigration from adjacent areas. Those studies will help to better understand the functioning of this population and the ability of polar bears to (re)-colonize new areas.
We also use genetic information to investigate kin-structure and dispersal patterns in the Svalbard population. Further projects are related to spatial-temporal changes in population structure, mating system and female philopatry.
This is a PhD project for Eve M.L. Zeyl under supervision of Professor Lutz Bachmann and Øystein Wiig, NHM.
The project is performed in cooperation with Norwegian Polar Institute and University of Tromsø.