Nat Ecol Evol 6 (7) 936-944 [2022-07-00; online 2022-06-16]
Polar bears (Ursus maritimus) and brown bears (Ursus arctos) are sister species possessing distinct physiological and behavioural adaptations that evolved over the last 500,000 years. However, comparative and population genomics analyses have revealed that several extant and extinct brown bear populations have relatively recent polar bear ancestry, probably as the result of geographically localized instances of gene flow from polar bears into brown bears. Here, we generate and analyse an approximate 20X paleogenome from an approximately 100,000-year-old polar bear that reveals a massive prehistoric admixture event, which is evident in the genomes of all living brown bears. This ancient admixture event was not visible from genomic data derived from living polar bears. Like more recent events, this massive admixture event mainly involved unidirectional gene flow from polar bears into brown bears and occurred as climate changes caused overlap in the ranges of the two species. These findings highlight the complex reticulate paths that evolution can take within a regime of radically shifting climate.