The American black bear (Ursus americanus) experienced a significant range contraction during the 19th and 20th centuries due to a variety of anthropogenic factors. Although previous molecular studies of black bears provided insight into historic and contemporary forces shaping phylogeographic patterns, none included black bears from the central part of the species distribution. Understanding the historical aspects of the connectivity and genetic differentiation of black bears in this region is important for proper management and conservation programs, but this understanding is confounded by poorly documented translocation efforts and population expansion. To address these issues, we generated mitochondrial DNA sequence data for 409 black bears from 15 populations in North America. Two sampling localities (Manitoba, Canada, and Minnesota) were source populations for translocation into western Arkansas and Louisiana. Major conclusions from our study include: black bears in western Arkansas were affected genetically by the translocation program; eastern Oklahoma has been repopulated by westward expansion of bears from Arkansas with a mixture of translocated bears and remnant individuals; black bears in Louisiana were not affected genetically by the translocation program; black bears in western Texas and northern Mexico dispersed there from the southeastern United States; and bears in White River National Wildlife Refuge (eastern Arkansas) share closer genetic affinities with U. a. luteolus than they do with the widespread U. a. americanus.
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