The contemporary genetic structure of animal populations is sculpted by past events, including demographic bottlenecks and expansions and movement of animals by humans. In an analysis of microsatellite DNA of black bears (Ursus americanus; n = 540) across California, we discovered distinct population structure and genetic evidence of 2 historic colonization events. First, genotypes of bears sampled in southern California are most related to those from the Yosemite National Park region and not with spatially intervening populations. Historical records recount the translocation of 28 black bears from the Yosemite National Park area of the central Sierra Nevada to the San Bernardino Mountains in southern California in the 1930s. Second, before colonization of California by Europeans, the Central Coast region was inhabited by the now extinct California grizzly bear (Ursus arctos californiensis), but not black bears. Following an apparent competitive release and range expansion during the past century, black bears now inhabit the Central Coast region of California. Black bears in California's Central Coast display lower genetic diversity (founder effect) and a genetic signature most closely allied with black bears from the southern Sierra Nevada. In both these cases, molecular genetic techniques allowed historical reconstruction of anthropogenic events leading to changes in animal distributions.
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