Could brown bears (Ursus arctos) have survived in Ireland during the Last Glacial Maximum?

Saoirse A. Leonard, Claire L. Risley*, Samuel T. Turvey

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (SciVal)


Brown bears are recorded from Ireland during both the Late Pleistocene and early-mid Holocene. Although most of the Irish landmass was covered by an ice sheet during the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), Irish brown bears are known to have hybridized with polar bears during the Late Pleistocene, and it is suggested that the Irish brown bear population did not become extinct but instead persisted in situ through the LGM in a southwestern ice-free refugium. We use historical population modelling to demonstrate that brown bears are highly unlikely to have survived through the LGM in Ireland under any combination of life-history parameters shown by living bear populations, but instead would have rapidly become extinct following advance of the British-Irish ice sheet, and probably recolonized Ireland during the end-Pleistocene Woodgrange Interstadial from a closely related nearby source population. The time available for brown bear-polar bear hybridization was therefore restricted to narrow periods at the beginning or end of the LGM. Brown bears would have been extremely vulnerable to extinction in Quaternary habitat refugia and required areas substantially larger than southwestern Ireland to survive adverse glacial conditions.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20130281
Number of pages3
JournalBiology Letters
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 23 Aug 2013


  • hybridization
  • mammal extinction
  • migration
  • population viability analysis
  • refugium
  • SEA
  • TIME


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