Graduate Theses & Dissertations


mycobiome and skin chemistry of bat wings in relation to white-nose syndrome
White-nose syndrome (WNS) is a skin disease of bats caused by the fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans (Pd) that damages flight membranes during hibernation and can lead to death. The disease causes mortality of multiple bat species in eastern North America and is spreading into western North America. Future impacts of WNS on naïve bat populations are unknown. Variation in host susceptibility occurs among and within species, but mechanisms driving this variation are unclear. Multiple studies have characterized immunological responses to WNS, but skin physiology as a barrier to pathogens is understudied. The unique ability of Pd to actively penetrate the normal, intact skin of its mammalian host makes WNS an interesting study system to understand skin defenses. Aspects of the mammalian skin environment that can influence disease susceptibility include pH, sebaceous lipids, and microbiomes. I found skin mycobiomes of WNS-susceptible species had significantly lower alpha diversity and abundance compared to bat species resistant to Pd infection. Using these data, I predicted that most naïve bat species in western North America will be susceptible to WNS based on the low diversity of their skin mycobiomes. Some fungi isolated from bat wings inhibited Pd growth in vitro, but only under specific salinity and pH conditions, suggesting the microenvironment on wings can influence microbial interactions and potentially WNS-susceptibility. I measured the wing-skin pH of bats in eastern Canada and found that Eptesicus fuscus (WNS-tolerant) had more acidic skin than M. lucifugus (WNS-susceptible). Differences in sebum quantity and composition among and within mammalian species may help explain variation in skin disease susceptibility and the composition of skin microbiomes. This is due to the antimicrobial properties of sebum and the use of sebum as a nutrition source by microbes. Outcomes of this work further our understanding of inter- and intra-specific differences among bat species and individuals in skin mycobiomes and physiology, which may contribute to variation in WNS-susceptibility. Future research should focus on characterizing the physical and chemical landscape of skin as this is essential for understanding mechanisms structuring skin microbial assemblages and skin disease susceptibility in wildlife. Author Keywords: bat, fungi, microbiome, mycology, physiology, white-nose syndrome
Clonal structure and mating patterns in a natural population of Sagittaria latifolia
Increased plant size is expected to have negative consequences for mating by increasing pollen transfer among the same plant. However, recent theoretical studies have demonstrated that this may not be true for clonal plants. Instead, clonal expansion could enhance outcrossing opportunities without increasing selfing by reducing distances to potential mates. I investigated how the spatial structure of clones influences patterns of pollen dispersal, selfing rates and siring success in a natural population of Sagittaria latifolia. I found that pollen dispersal distances typically exceeded the spatial extent of clones and there was a positive association between clone size and the likelihood that clones were intermingled. Together, this resulted in a weak positive association between clone size and selfing rates, and a strong positive association between clone size and outcross siring success. This is the first empirical support for the theoretical expectation that any negative effects of selfing in large clones might be offset by increased siring success. Author Keywords: clonal growth, fitness gain curve, geitonogamy, plant mating, plant reproductive ecology, sex allocation theory
Differences and similarities in exploration and risk-taking behaviours of two Myotis bat species.
AbstractDifferences and similarities in exploration and risk-taking behaviours of two Myotis bat species. Laura Michele Scott Behaviours that are repeatable across circumstances and time determine an individual’s personality. Personality and behavioural variation are subject to selective pressures, including risks related to the use of different habitat types. I explored the ecological and evolutionary consequences of habitat selection by comparing the behaviour of two sympatric bat species, Myotis leibii and M. lucifugus. These species display overlap in roosting preferences, however, M. leibii tend to roost in crevices on the ground, while M. lucifugus tend to roost in crevices or cavities that are raised off the ground. I hypothesized that the habitat selection patterns of these two species create behavioural reaction norms at the species level. I predicted that ground roosting behaviour favours bolder personality and more exploratory and active traits when compared with bats that do not ground roost. I examined inter- and intra-specific variation in behaviour using a modified, three-dimensional open-field test and quantified the frequency and duration of behaviours such as flying, landing, and crawling. Bats were continuously video-recorded over 1-hour nocturnal and diurnal trials. I used a priori mixed models with combinations of individual characteristics and life-history traits to select the models that best describe each species. We found that M. leibii (n = 15) displayed more exploratory and bolder behaviours than M. lucifugus while on the ground (n = 21) and higher overall activity during the trial. I also found that M. leibii displayed crawling behaviours and movements consistent with foraging while on the ground which is a rare behaviour in bats and only observed in a few species (Desmodus rotundus and Mystacina tuberculate to my knowledge). Future research should explore biomechanical adaptations associated with ground-foraging in M. leibii. Author Keywords: Bats, Behaviour, Exploration, Myotis leibii, Myotis lucifugus, Roosting
Contributions of Mayflies (EPHEMEROPTERA
Walleye (Sander vitreus) are an ecologically and economically significant fish harvestedby recreational and commercial fisheries across Ontario. Adult Walleye are piscivores, but anecdotal evidence from anglers suggests that Walleye often target aquatic insects such as mayfly larvae (Ephemeroptera). My research examined the diet of Walleye caught from May to September in Lake St. Joseph in northern Ontario. I examined the stomach contents of angle harvested Walleye to identify the prey over two summers. Through morphological analysis of stomach contents, mayflies were found to be a significant prey source for Walleye, during larval emergence events in early summer, and to a lesser extent throughout the rest of the summer season. These findings are important for long term management of Walleye populations and associated resources. I also assess the potential and problems of Walleye management and research from my experiences of having worked with industry, government, and university partners on this project. Author Keywords: alternative prey, Food web interactions, invertebrate, piscivore, Predator prey interactions
Gene flow directionality and functional genetic variation among Ontario, Canada Ursus americanus populations.
Rapidly changing landscapes introduce challenges for wildlife management, particularly for large mammal populations with long generation times and extensive spatial requirements. Understanding how these populations interact with heterogeneous landscapes aids in predicting responses to further environmental change. In this thesis, I profile American black bears using microsatellite loci and pooled whole-genome sequencing. These data characterize gene flow directionality and functional genetic variation to understand patterns of dispersal and local adaptation; processes key to understanding vulnerability to environmental change. I show dispersal is positively density-dependent, male biased, and influenced by food productivity gradients suggestive of source-sink dynamics. Genomic comparison of bears inhabiting different climate and forest zones identified variation in genes related to the cellular response to starvation and cold. My thesis demonstrates source-sink dynamics and local adaption in black bears. Population management must balance dispersal to sustain declining populations against the risk of maladaptation under future scenarios of environmental change. Author Keywords: American black bear, Dispersal, Functional Genetic Variation, Gene Flow Directionality, Genomics, Local Adaptation
Nutrigenomics of Daphnia
Organismal nutrition lies at the interface between biotic and abiotic factors in an ecosystem, dictating the transfer of energy and nutrients across trophic levels. Our ability to detect nutritional limitation in consumers is reliant on a priori knowledge of dietary history due to our inability to differentiate nutrient stress based on body-wide responses. Molecular physiological responses are increasingly being used to measure physiological stress with high levels of specificity due to the specific modes of action ecological stressors have on organismal molecular physiology. Because animal consumers respond to varying nutrient supplies by up- and down-regulating nutrient-specific metabolic pathways, we can quantify nutritional status by quantifying the expression of those pathways. Here I present an investigation into the use of transcriptomics to detect nutritional stress in the keystone aquatic herbivore, Daphnia pulex, I use RNAseq and quantitative PCR (qPCR) identify nutritional indicator genes. I found that nutritional status could be determined with 100% accuracy with just ten genes. Additionally, the functional annotation of those genes uncovered previously unidentified responses to dietary stress. Further testing and validation of the selected indicator genes is required however these findings have the potential to revolutionize our ability to measure and monitor consumer nutritional stress. Author Keywords: Biomarkers, Daphnia, Gene expression, Nutrigenomics, Nutritional ecology, RNAseq
Islands, ungulates, and ice
Central to wildlife conservation and management is the need for refined, spatially explicit knowledge on the diversity and distribution of species and the factors that drive those patterns. This is especially vital as anthropogenic disturbance threatens rapid large-scale change, even in the most remote areas of the planet. My dissertation examines theinfluence of land- and sea-scape heterogeneity on patterns of genetic differentiation, diversity, and broad-scale distributions of island-dwelling ungulates in the Arctic Archipelago. First, I investigated genetic differentiation among island populations of Peary caribou (Rangifer tarandus pearyi) in contrast to continental migratory caribou (Rangifer tarandus) and evaluated whether genetic exchange among Peary caribou island populations was limited by the availability of sea ice – both now and in the future. Differentiation among both groups was best explained by geodesic distance, revealing sea ice as an effective platform for Peary caribou movement and gene flow. With future climate warming, substantial reductions in sea ice extent were forecast which significantly increased resistance to caribou movement, particularly in summer and fall. Second, I assessed genetic population structure and diversity of northern caribou and deciphered how Island Biogeography Theory (IBT) and Central Marginal Hypothesis (CMH) could act in an archipelago where isolation is highly variable due to the dynamics of sea ice. Genetic differentiation among continental and island populations was low to moderate. In keeping with IBT and CMH, island-dwelling caribou displayed lower genetic diversity compared to mainland and mainland migratory herds; the size of islands (or population range) positively influenced genetic diversity, while distance-to-mainland and fall ice-free coastlines negatively influenced genetic diversity. Hierarchical structure analysis revealed multiple units of caribou diversity below the species level. Third, I shifted my focus to the terrestrial landscape and explored the elements governing species-environment relationships. Using species distribution models, I tested the response of caribou and muskoxen to abiotic versus abiotic + biotic predictors, and included distance to heterospecifics as a proxy for competitive interactions. Models that included biotic predictors outperformed models with abiotic predictors alone, and biotic predictors were most important when identifying habitat suitability for both ungulates. Further, areas of high habitat suitability for caribou and muskoxen were largely disjunct, limited in extent, and mainly outside protected areas. Finally, I modelled functional connectivity for two genetically and spatially disjunct groups of island-dwelling caribou. For High Arctic caribou, natural and anthropogenic features impeded gene flow (isolation-by-resistance); for Baffin Island caribou we found panmixia with absence of isolation-by-distance. Overall, my dissertation demonstrates the varying influences of contemporary land- and sea-scape heterogeneity on the distribution, diversity and differentiation of Arctic ungulates and it highlights the vulnerability of island-dwelling caribou to a rapidly changing Arctic environment. Author Keywords: Circuitscape, connectivity, Island Biogeography, landscape genetics, population structure, species distribution models
Determinants of Breeding Bird Diversity in Ontario's Far North
190 species of birds are known to breed in Ontario’s far north making the region an important nursery for boreal birds. Digital point count data were collected using two different autonomous recording units (ARUs): one model with two standard microphones to detect birds and anurans, and one model with one standard microphone and one ultrasonic microphone for detecting bats. ARUs were deployed either in short or long-term plots, which were four to six days or approximately 10 weeks, respectively. I assessed differences in breeding bird richness detections between ARU and plot types. I also tested the relative impact of the habitat heterogeneity and species-energy hypotheses in relation to breeding birds and created predictive maps of breeding bird diversity for Ontario’s far north. I found no difference in species richness estimates between the two ARU models but found that long-term plots detected about 7 more bird species and 1.5 more anuran species than short-term plots. I found support for both the species-energy and habitat heterogeneity hypotheses, but support for each hypothesis varied with the resolution of the analysis. Species-energy models were better predictors of breeding bird diversity at coarser resolutions and habitat heterogeneity models were better predictors at finer resolutions. Breeding bird diversity was highest in the Ontario Shield Ecozone compared with the Hudson Bay Lowlands Ecozone, but concentrated areas of higher diversity found in the Lowlands were associated with large rivers and the associated coastlines. Author Keywords: boreal birds, breeding birds, habitat heterogeneity, Hill diversity, Ontario, species-energy hypothesis
Relationships between bird densities and distance to mines in Northern Canada
Increased mining activity in the Canadian Arctic has resulted in significant changes to the environment that may be influencing some tundra-nesting bird populations. In this thesis I examine the direct and indirect effects of mining on birds nesting in the Canadian Arctic. I first perform a literature review of the effects that mining in the Arctic has on northern environments and wildlife and outline several ways in which mines affect Arctic-breeding birds. By using the Program for Regional and International Shorebird Monitoring (PRISM) Arctic plot-based bird survey data from across the Canadian Arctic, collected from 1995 to 2018, I identify the effects of distance to mining operations on the occupancy patterns of Arctic-breeding bird species. Six species’ densities were significantly impacted by mine proximity (Canada/Cackling Goose, Long-tailed Duck, Long-tailed Jaeger, Pectoral Sandpiper, Savannah Sparrow, and Rock Ptarmigan) across five major mine sites. Each species has its own unique relationship to distance from mining activity. Author Keywords: Bird populations, Canadian Arctic, Mining, Mining activities, PRISM, Tundra-nesting birds
Genetic Networks to Investigate Structure and Connectivity of Caribou at Multiple Spatial and Temporal Scales
Understanding genetic structure, connectivity, and movement of a species iscritical to management and conservation. Genetic network approaches allow the analysis of genetic information with flexibility and few prior assumptions. In chapter one, I tested the ability of individual-based genetic networks to detect fine-scale structure and connectivity in relation to sampling efforts. My findings revealed individual-based genetic networks can detect fine-scale genetic structure of caribou when using 15 highly variable microsatellite loci. Sampling levels less than 50% of the estimated population size resulted in highly disconnected networks which did not allow for accurate structure analysis; however community detection algorithms were robust in grouping closely related individuals despite low sampling. In chapter two, I used individual-based and population-based genetic networks to investigate structure, connectivity, and movement of caribou across a large study area in Western Canada. A community detection algorithm partitioned the population-based genetic network at multiple spatial scales which uncovered patterns of hierarchical genetic structure and highlighted patterns of gene flow. The hierarchical population structure results aligned with the known distribution of different caribou Designatable Units (DUs) and additional structure was found within each DU. Furthermore, individual-based networks that were constructed with a subset of samples from the Mackenzie Mountains region of the Northwest Territories revealed patterns of long-distance movement and high connectivity across the region. Author Keywords: Biological Conservation, Caribou, Community Detection, Connectivity, Genetic Networks, Structure
Landscape and its Discontents - Art and Ruins, a Critical Topography in Word and Image
From Altdorfer and Poussin to Cézanne, Monet and to the Group of Seven, landscape has been a focal point of artistic inspiration for most of what we think of as modern art history. In contemporary times the concept and representation of landscape has shifted from visions of an idealized and exalted place to notions of the landscape as a ruins and site of ecological disaster. Because of this seismic inversion, artists are no longer solely making visual the beauty and serenity of nature but are rather finding novel ways of problematizing it and incorporating themes of its eventual disappearance, its inescapable transformation into ruins. The following dissertation puts forward a critical topographical study of three sites and three different artists who deal with this new found relationship to landscape. The three landscapes are located in different parts of the world and from different artistic contexts yet showing that they retain an aesthetic and conceptual character that links them together is part of the work of the dissertation. The first site is El Sol del Membrillo, a film by Víctor Erice in which the filmmaker chronicles painter Antonio Lopez García’s attempts to paint the ephemeral, he attempts to paint that which is in the act of disappearing. The second site is The Mill St Cemetery in Cambridge, England where artist Gordon Young has contributed a work of public art titled Bird Stones that blurs the line between landscape, sculpture, monument and artwork. The third and final site is Tommy Thompson Park in Toronto, Canada that presents itself as an ecology park of retrieval, recovery and as a public art space. My investigation of this last regional research site is offered both as a chapter and as a videography about wilderness as wasteland. Author Keywords: Aesthetics, Anthropocene, Art, Cinema, El Sol del Membrillo, Toronto: The Leslie Spit
Fall Migratory Behaviour and Cross-seasonal Interactions in Semipalmated Plovers (Charadrius semipalmatus) Breeding in the Hudson Bay Lowlands, Canada
I used the Motus Wildlife Tracking System to monitor the fall migration behaviour and assess the underlying drivers of migration strategy in a small shorebird, the Semipalmated Plover (Charadrius semipalmatus), breeding at two subarctic sites: Churchill, Manitoba and Burntpoint Creek, Ontario, Canada. Semipalmated Plovers from both sites departed breeding areas between mid-July and early August, with females preceding males and failed breeders preceding successful breeders. Migrants showed between and within-population variation in migration behaviour, though birds from both sites tended to follow interior or coastal routes and congregated in three major stopover regions along the mid-Atlantic coast of North America. I found that later-departing birds had initial flight tracks oriented more toward the south, faster overall ground speeds, were less likely to stopover in North America, and stopped at lower latitudes, suggesting that later-departing individuals use aspects of a time-minimizing strategy on fall migration. My findings emphasize the importance of the mid-Atlantic coast for Semipalmated Plovers and establish connectivity between sites used during breeding and migration. Author Keywords: Breeding, Migration, Motus, Semipalmated Plover, Shorebird, Stopover


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