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A basal ursine bear (Protarctos abstrusus) from the Pliocene High Arctic reveals Eurasian affinities and a diet rich in fermentable sugars.

  • Author(s): Wang, Xiaoming
  • Rybczynski, Natalia
  • Harington, C Richard
  • White, Stuart C
  • Tedford, Richard H
  • et al.
Abstract

The skeletal remains of a small bear (Protarctos abstrusus) were collected at the Beaver Pond fossil site in the High Arctic (Ellesmere I., Nunavut). This mid-Pliocene deposit has also yielded 12 other mammals and the remains of a boreal-forest community. Phylogenetic analysis reveals this bear to be basal to modern bears. It appears to represent an immigration event from Asia, leaving no living North American descendants. The dentition shows only modest specialization for herbivory, consistent with its basal position within Ursinae. However, the appearance of dental caries suggest a diet high in fermentable-carbohydrates. Fossil plants remains, including diverse berries, suggests that, like modern northern black bears, P. abstrusus may have exploited a high-sugar diet in the fall to promote fat accumulation and facilitate hibernation. A tendency toward a sugar-rich diet appears to have arisen early in Ursinae, and may have played a role in allowing ursine lineages to occupy cold habitats.

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