Tag Archives: grolar bear

New genetics paper is not about whether climate change causes polar bear hybrids

A new paper on the evolutionary history of bears (Bears breed across species borders: Kumar et al. 2017) has concluded that hybridization is common and natural among all species of ursids. And while some media outlets (e.g. DailyMail) have framed this as surprisingly convincing proof that experts were wrong to claim that climate change is the cause of recent polar bear X grizzly hybrids, definitive evidence against that interpretation has been available for years to anyone who bothered to look: see my recent “Five facts that challenge hybridization nonsense.”

This genetic evidence is just a cherry on top of the rest but will help get the paper the media attention the authors crave.

Polar bear X grizzly hybrids were known long before climate change and sea ice decline became an issue. See also previous posts here, here, and here. In fact, as I’ve pointed out, “most polar bear hybrids said to exist have not been confirmed by DNA testing” (including virtually all of the bears specialist Andrew Derocher claimed were hybrids, including the latest one from 2016 that prompted such gems as “Love in the time of climate change”).

pizzly_andrewderocher_300dpi_2017 paper

A polar bear X grizzly hybrid, see Kumar et al. 2017. Photo by A. Derocher.

In my opinion, the most important conclusion of this paper is that occasional but widespread hybridization among bears is why it has been so hard to say with confidence when polar bears arose (which I addressed years ago, in my Polar bear evolution series: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3). You cannot use traditional methods of pinpointing the timing of speciation events from genetic data if one or more of the species have hybridized (traded genes). See the long, fuzzy “divergence times” for bears in the image below from the Kumar paper.

Kumar et al 2017 hybridization in bear evolution_fig 5

From Kumar et al. 2017, Fig. 5: “The scale bar shows divergence times in million years and 95% confidence intervals for divergence times [speciation events] are shown as shadings.”

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Polar bear hybrid update: samples sent for DNA testing to rule out blonde grizzly

That putative polar bear hybrid shot in Arviat last week has been sent for DNA testing.

hybrid-bear_didji-ishalook-15 May2016_facebook

Just out from NunatsiaqOnline (24 May 2016): Nunavut biologist sends possible “grolar” bear DNA for analysis: Unusual bear killed in Arviat could just be a blonde grizzly bear

Additional details confirm the animal shot was a female, which could account for the fact it was described as “small”. The Nunavut biologist who sent in the sample for testing warned it could also be a blonde grizzly, as I pointed out last week.

UPDATE 24 May 2016: Comments added below from a Toronto Star news report below on the hybrid identity of this animal.

UPDATE 28 May 2016: See this 27 May 2016 follow-up post (Most polar bear hybrids said to exist have not been confirmed by DNA testing) for details on unconfirmed sightings or reports of hybrids.
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Five facts that challenge polar bear hybridization nonsense

It was inevitable, I suppose, that the putative hybrid shot in Arviat, Nunavut last week (see my post here) would initiate the global warming blame game.

Hybrids again_Washington Post 23 May 2016_title screencap

Washington Post, 23 May 2016, Adam Popescu: “Love in the time of climate change: Grizzlies and polar bears are now mating

Here are the five points you need to know about polar bear hybridization, as there are several nonsense statements contained in this Washington Post article.

UPDATE 24 May 2016: References adding below regarding grizzly sightings south of Churchill on the west coast of Hudson Bay (H/T Doug Clark).

UPDATE 28 May 2016: See this 27 May 2016 follow-up post (Most polar bear hybrids said to exist have not been confirmed by DNA testing) for details on unconfirmed sightings or reports of hybrids.

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Is it plausible that polar bears are 4-5 million years old? Part 2, Hybridization

These are some of the points regarding this new paper by Miller et al. (2012, in press), on genetic evidence for the origin of polar bears, that I think deserve a critical look. See part 1, for my comments on Claim #1 (the fossil evidence)(see Doug Hoffman summary of the paper here).

In this post, I’ll elaborate on Claim #2. I’ve added one more to the original three listed.

Claim #1 Polar bears and brown bears (aka grizzlies) arose 4-5 million years old. [I countered with the fossil evidence]

Claim #2 Hybridization in both directions occurred repeatedly throughout the evolutionary history of polar bears and brown bears.

Claim #3 Svalbard may have been an important refugium for polar bears during warm interglacial periods.

Claim #4 Polar bear population numbers (population size estimates) over the last one million years tracked changes in climate (warmer/colder periods).

Claim #2 Hybridization in both directions occurred repeatedly throughout the evolutionary history of polar bears and brown bears [a claim also made in two other recent papers on polar bear evolution (Edwards et al. 2011; Hailer et al. 2012)].

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