Polar Bears International

Did you know that polar bears have Irish ancestry? Scientists have long known that polar bears have a close ancestor in the grizzly bear, but which grizzly bear has always been the question.

© Daniel J. Cox/naturalexposures.com

7/10/2011 5:00:00 AM

Polar Bears with a Brogue?

By Dr. Andrew Derocher

We know polar bears have a close ancestor in the grizzly bear, but just which grizzly bear has always been the question. In the past, it was assumed these grizzlies (or brown bears) lived in Siberia. A study published in 2010 suggested the ancestors were from Alaska. But a more recent genetic analysis suggests that polar bears interbred with Irish grizzly bears—and that the modern polar bear has strong links to Ireland!

A study published in Current Biology on July 7, 2011, with lead author Ceiridwen Edwards of the University of Dublin (interesting connection, no?), compared genetic material from subfossil grizzly bears in Ireland to modern polar bears.

It's likely we've not heard the end of the polar bear evolution story. As more subfossil polar bears and grizzly bears are analyzed, it's likely the story will change yet again. It's enough to make one reach for a Guinness and sit back to imagine polar bears wandering about the shores of Ireland.

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