The Asiatic black bear is one of the most endangered mammals in South Korea owing to population declines resulting from human exploitation and habitat fragmentation. To restore the black bear population in South Korea, 27 bear cubs from North Korea and Russian Far East (Primorsky Krai) were imported and released into Jirisan National Park, a reservoir of the largest wild population in South Korea, in 2004. To monitor the success of this reintroduction, the genetic diversity and population structure of the reintroduced black bears were measured using both mitochondrial and nuclear DNA markers.
Mitochondrial D-loop region DNA sequences (615 bp) of 43 Japanese black bears from previous study and 14 Southeast Asian black bears in this study were employed to obtain phylogenetic inference of the reintroduced black bears. The mitochondrial phylogeny indicated Asiatic black bear populations from Russian Far East and North Korea form a single evolutionary unit distinct from populations from Japan and Southeast Asia. Mean expected heterozygosity (H(E)) across 16 microsatellite loci was 0.648 for Russian and 0.676 for North Korean populations. There was a moderate but significant level of microsatellite differentiation (F(ST) = 0.063) between black bears from the 2 source areas. In addition, genetic evidences revealed that 2 populations are represented as diverging groups, with lingering genetic admixture among individuals of 2 source populations. Relatedness analysis based on genetic markers indicated several discrepancies with the pedigree records. Implication of the phylogenetic and genetic evidences on long-term management of Asiatic black bears in South Korea is discussed.