Black bears can now be found in southern Missouri, thanks to a reintroduction program more than fifty years ago.
The University of Missouri has worked in conjunction with other researchers to trace the origins of the bears.
Researchers used genetic footprints and hair samples to identify which bears came from reintroduced groups in Arkansas, and which were indigenous.
Washington University researcher Kaitlyn Faries did research on the bears at MU during initial studies in 2007.
She focused on identifying which bears came from reintroduced groups meant to grow the bear population, and which might have been indigenous.
“From those follicles you can actually abstract DNA and using different types of genetic techniques, you can sort of fingerprint those particular bears," Faries said. "And if you have enough hairs, you can find out things like population size, but at the time we were more interested in just having the general idea of where the bears were coming from.”
The reintroduction during the '50s and '60s in Arkansas has led to quite the bear boom.
“That population in Arkansas has expanded quite dramatically," Faries said. "There’s thousands of bears there now. And so we were curious to see if our bears in Missouri were just migrants from that growing population in Arkansas, so it would have a similar fingerprint.
Further testing will indicate if a small group of bears survived on their own; data with population estimations and demographics of the bears should also be released later this year.
The Missouri bear population may be small, but researchers warn those living near the Ozark forest to be cautious. .