Graduate Theses & Dissertations

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role of corticosterone in breeding effort and reproductive success in tree swallows
Glucocorticoids (e.g., corticosterone (CORT)) are hypothesized to mediate decisions regarding reproductive investment during breeding, but the directionality of the relationship is not clear. The CORT-fitness hypothesis posits that high levels of CORT arise from challenging environmental conditions in which an individual will conserve resources for future reproduction or self-maintenance, and thus result in lower reproductive success (a negative relationship). In contrast, the CORT-adaptation hypothesis suggests that, during energetically demanding periods, CORT will mediate physiological or behavioural changes that result in increased reproductive investment and success (a positive relationship). Inconsistencies arise due to the various species and life-history stages studied, and the complex interactions between fitness and glucocorticoids. Using an experimental approach, I investigated the relationship between CORT and reproductive success by manipulating baseline CORT levels in female tree swallows Tachycineta bicolor prior to laying using silastic implants. Implants failed to raise CORT levels of females during either incubation or the nestling stage, and maternal treatment had no effect on indices of fitness at either stage. Using a correlative approach, partial support for the CORT-adaptation hypothesis was found: There was a positive relationship between CORT and hatching success. This only occurred when CORT was measured during incubation, when baseline CORT levels may stimulate increased reproductive effort and success. In contrast, during the nestling stage baseline CORT levels were not related to reproductive investment or success. Maternal CORT levels during incubation also did not influence nestling phenotype, although nestling stress CORT levels were higher in individuals that survived to fledging. In conclusion, CORT mediates reproductive effort and success during some breeding stages, but it is still unclear why this is the case and whether this same pattern will prevail in other contexts. Author Keywords: corticosterone, HPA axis, maternal effects, reproductive success, tree swallow
Risk of Mortality for the Semipalmated Plover (Charadrius semipalmatus) Throughout Its Life Cycle
Three long-term mark and recapture/resight data sets of individually marked Semipalmated Plovers (Charadrius semipalmatus) were analyzed using Cormack-Jolly- Seber models. Data came from two breeding populations (Churchill, Manitoba, Canada, n=982, and Egg Island, Alaska, USA, n=84) and one overwintering population (Cumberland Island, Georgia, USA, n=62). For Alaska and Georgia, time-invariant models were best-supported, giving annual survival estimates of 0.67 (95%C.I.: 0.58- 0.76) and 0.59 (95%C.I.: 0.49-0.67) respectively. Data from Manitoba supported a timedependent model: survival estimates varied from 1.00 to 0.36, with lowest estimates from recent years, supporting observations of local population decline. Seasonal survival analysis of the Georgia population indicated lower mortality during winter (monthly Φoverwinter: 0.959, 95%CI: 0.871-0.988; for 6 month period Φoverwinter: 0.780 (0.440-0.929)) than during combined breeding and migratory periods (monthly ΦBreeding+Migration: 0.879 (0.825-0.918); for 8 month ΦBreeding+Migration: 0356 (0.215-0.504)). I recommend, based on high resight rates, continued monitoring of survival of wintering populations, to determine potential range-wide population declines. Keywords: survival, longevity, mortality, shorebird, overwinter, breeding, migration, life cycle Author Keywords: life cycle, longevity, mortality, non-breeding, shorebird, survival
Impact of Agricultural Land Use on Bobolink Occurrence, Abundance, and Reproductive Success in an Alvar Landscape
Pastures and hayfields provide surrogate habitat for many declining grassland birds. Understanding agricultural land use dynamics and habitat quality can impact conservation of grassland species. I investigated 1) patterns of land use change in protected and unprotected sites in relationship to Bobolink occurrence in Carden, Ontario, Canada and 2) whether continuous grazing at lowmoderate cattle densities provided suitable breeding habitat, using both real and artificial nests. I replicated the 2001-2005 Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas to evaluate site habitat changes and Bobolink population trends. In continuously grazed pastures and late-cut hayfields, I monitored Bobolink abundance and reproductive success and modeled daily survival rate of nests using habitat management, vegetation structure, and prey availability. Results indicated that Bobolink have declined by -15.3% since 2001 in Carden; losses were explained almost entirely by changes from suitable breeding habitat (e.g. hayfields) to tilled land or by the colonization of shrubs. For pastures, stocking densities of ≤ 1Animal Units/ha did not negatively impact Bobolink. Year and caterpillar biomass, and vegetation height were the strongest predictors of nesting success in pastures and hayfields, respectively. Focus on the preservation of suitable habitat on the breeding grounds and management on small-scale beef farms can contribute to conservation action for this declining species. Author Keywords: agricultural management, avian ecology, Bobolink, continuous grazing, grassland birds, nest success
Habitat use within and among roosts of chimney swifts (Chaetura pelagica)
Chimney swifts are listed as Threatened nationally and in many provinces within Canada due to rapid population declines. I examined large-scale spatial variation in the maximum size of chimney swift roosts at the northern edge of their range to identify where larger roosts occur. I used multi-sourced data collected across Ontario and Quebec between 1998 and 2013. I found that larger roosts were found at more northerly latitudes, and that very large roosts (>1000 birds) only occurred north of 45°. I also investigated fine-scale patterns of chimney swift positioning inside one of the largest roosts in Ontario. Using digitally recorded images, I calculated the angular position of swifts inside the roost relative to ambient and roost temperature. I found that swifts showed a strong preference for clinging to the south facing wall and clustered more when ambient air temperature was warmer. Thus, huddling in swifts provides additional or alternate benefits, other than serving purely to reduce costs of thermoregulation at low ambient temperatures. This research contributes to the understanding of chimney swift roosting ecology and identifies large roosting sites that should be retained for conservation. Author Keywords: chimney swift, communal roosting, conservation, group size, social thermoregulation, species-at-risk
Island Syndrome and Stress Physiology of Mice in the Genus Peromyscus
Biological differences between island and mainland conspecifics have been well studied, but few studies have addressed differences in stress physiology. Stressors, such as predation and competition for resources, cause the release of glucocorticoids (GCs). Characteristics of island wildlife, called “island syndrome”, are attributed to low levels of predators and competitors. I tested the hypothesis that island syndrome includes differences in GC levels between island and mainland rodents using two approaches; first, using white-footed mice (Peromyscus leucopus) from a near-shore archipelago (Thousand Islands, Ontario) and the nearby mainland; second, using study-skins of deer mice (Peromyscus maniculatus) from two archipelagos offshore of Vancouver Island, British Columbia. White-footed mice in the near-shore archipelago did not show characteristics of island syndrome, or changes in GC levels (feces and hair); however deer mice from both archipelagos in British Columbia were heavier and had lower hair GCs for their size than Vancouver Island mice. Author Keywords: Glucocorticoids, Island rule, Island syndrome, Peromyscus, Stress physiology
Temperature effects on the routine metabolic rates of brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) eggs, alevin and fry
Early developmental stages of cold-adapted ectotherms such as brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) are at risk of mortality with increasing water temperatures because of their sensitivity to changes in their environment. I studied the mass and routine metabolic rate (RMR) of wild-origin brook trout eggs, alevin and young fry reared at normal (5°C) and elevated (9°C) temperatures for the duration of the study or at mismatched temperatures. This setup determined if preconditioning acclimation for one temperature benefits or hinders the organism later in life. Three levels of biological organization (ancestry, population, family) were studied using Akaike’s Information Criterion (AIC) to identify models that best accounted for variation in the data. Family, mass and temperature were most important in predicting body mass and mass-adjusted RMR, although population and ancestral-level differences were also detected at some life stages. Strong variation in body mass and mass-adjusted RMR among families may indicate adaptive potential within brook trout populations to respond to increases in water temperature with climate change. Author Keywords: Acclimation, AIC, Brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis), Environmental matching, Routine metabolic rate, Temperature
Bank Swallow (Riparia riparia) Breeding in Aggregate Pits and Natural Habitats
I examined Bank Swallow (Riparia riparia) colony persistence and occupancy, in lakeshore, river and man-made aggregate pit habitat. Habitat persistence was highest on the lakeshore and lowest in aggregate pits, likely due to annual removal and relocation of aggregate resources. Bank Swallow colonies in aggregate pit sites were more likely to persist if a colony was larger or if burrows were located higher on the nesting face. I also compared nest productivity and health factors of Bank Swallows in lakeshore and aggregate pit habitats. While clutch size was the same in both habitat types, the number of fledglings from successfully hatched nests was significantly higher in aggregate pit sites than from lakeshore sites. Mass of fledgling Bank Swallows did not differ significantly between habitat types, however mass of adults from aggregate pits decreased significantly over the nesting season. Parasite loads on fledgling Bank Swallows were significantly lower in aggregate pits than in lakeshore sites. According to these indicators, aggregate pits appear to provide equivalent or higher quality habitat for Bank Swallows than the natural lakeshore sites, making them adequate and potentially key for this species’ recovery. Aggregate pit operators can manage for swallows by (1) creating longer, taller faces to attract birds and decrease predation, and (2) supplementing their habitat with water sources to encourage food availability. Author Keywords: Aerial insectivore, aggregate pits, Bank Swallow, colony persistence, ectoparasites, substitute habitat
Pathogen vs. Predator
Stressors are often an inescapable part of an organism’s life. While the effects of many stressors have been well studied individually, potential interactions between stressors exist that may result in greater than additive negative effects. Stressors may be linked by conflicting demands on energy budgets, interfering with important physiological pathways, or necessitating incompatible adaptive responses. Using Ranavirus (FV3) and larval dragonfly predators (Anax spp.) in a 2x2 factorial experiment on green frog (Lithobates clamitans) tadpoles, I investigate the interactions in behaviour, morphology, and metabolism when both stressors were applied in concert. I demonstrate that activity and feeding are reduced additively by both stressors, and tadpoles increase distance between conspecifics in FV3-exposed tanks, but only in the absence of predators. I also note decreases in mass, and a non-significant marginal increase in metabolic rate of tadpoles exposed to FV3. Interestingly, I provide evidence that FV3 can compromise morphometric responses through antagonistic interactions with perceived predation risk exposure, which may result in significantly elevated mortality even when either stressor is present in sub-lethal quantities. Thus, I conclude that sub-lethal exposure to stressors can nonetheless have substantial impacts on organisms and a more integrative approach to examining the impacts of stressors on individual physiology and fitness is necessary. Author Keywords: Behaviour, Interaction, Morphology, Predation Risk, Ranavirus, Tadpoles
Comparing Biological Responses to Contaminants in Darters (Etheostoma spp.) Collected from Rural and Urban Regions of the Grand River Watershed, Ontario
Urban and agricultural activities may introduce chemical stressors, including contaminants of emerging concern (CECs) and current use pesticides (CUPs) into riverine systems. The objective of this study was to determine if fish collected from sites in a river show biomarkers of exposure to these classes of contaminants, and if the biomarker patterns vary in fish collected from urbanized and agricultural sites. The watershed selected for this study was the Grand River in southern Ontario, which transitions from areas dominated by agricultural land use in the north to highly urbanized locations in the southern part of the watershed. Rainbow darters (Etheostoma caerluem) and fantail darters (Etheostoma flabellare) were collected from the Grand River in June, 2014 for biomarker analysis from two urbanized sites and three agricultural sites (n=20 per site). Over the same period of time, Polar Organic Chemical Integrative Samplers (POCIS) were deployed for 2 weeks at each site to monitor for the presence of CUPs and CECs. The amounts of the target compounds accumulated on POCIS, determined using LC-MS/MS were used to estimate the time weighted average concentrations of the contaminants at each site. Data on the liver somatic index for darters indicate site-specific differences in this condition factor (p<0.05). Significant differences in the concentrations of thiobarbituric acid reactive substances (TBARS) in gill tissue (p<0.05) indicate differences in oxidative stress in fish collected from the various sites. Measured concentrations of ethoxyresorufin-O-deethylase (EROD) in liver tissue were significantly different between sites (p<0.05), indicating differences in CYP1A metabolic activity. Finally, acetylcholinesterase (AChE) activity in brain tissue was significantly different between fish from rural and urban sites (p<0.05). The analysis of these biomarkers indicates that fish may be experiencing different levels of biological stress related to different land uses. These data may be useful in developing mitigation strategies to reduce impacts on fish and other aquatic organisms in the watershed. Author Keywords: AChE, Biomarker, Darter, EROD, POCIS, TBARS
Social thermoregulation and potential for heterothermy
Northern and southern flying squirrels (Glaucomys sabrinus and G. volans, respectively) are experiencing a climate change induced increase in range overlap, resulting in recent hybridization. We investigated the occurrence of heterospecific communal nesting, a potential facilitator of hybridization, and aimed to confirm the presence of torpor, a potential barrier to hybridization, in flying squirrels. In wild-caught captive squirrels, we conducted a paired nest choice experiment and found that heterospecific nesting did occur, but in a lower frequency than conspecific nesting. Ambient temperature did not affect the frequency of grouped nesting. We attempted to induce torpor in flying squirrels in a laboratory through cold exposure while measuring metabolic rate and body temperature. Strong evidence of torpor was not observed, and metabolic rate remained unchanged with season. We conclude that torpor is not a barrier to hybridization in flying squirrels, but resistance to heterospecific nesting may indicate the existence of one. Author Keywords: heterospecific group, hybridization, northern flying squirrel, social thermoregulation, southern flying squirrel, torpor
Home range use, habitat selection, and stress physiology of eastern whip-poor-wills (Antrostomus vociferus) at the northern edge of their range
The distribution of animals is rarely random and is affected by various environmental factors. We examined space-use patterns, habitat selection and stress responses of whip-poor-wills to mining exploration activity.To the best of my knowledge, fine scale patterns such as the habitat composition within known home ranges or territories of eastern whip-poor-wills have not been investigated. Using a population at the northern edge of the distribution in an area surrounding a mining exploration site, we tested whether variations in habitat and anthropogenic disturbances influence the stress physiology of individuals. We found no effect of increased mining activity on the stress physiology of birds but found a significant scale-dependent effect of habitat on their baseline and stress-induced corticosterone levels, and we suggest that these are the result of variations in habitat quality. The importance of other factors associated with those habitat differences (e.g., insect availability, predator abundance, and microhabitat features) warrants further research. Author Keywords: anthropogenic disturbances, Antrostomus vociferus, corticosterone, eastern whip-poor-will, habitat selection, radio-­telemetry
Human Activity and Habitat Characteristics Influence Shorebird Habitat Use and Behaviour at a Vancouver Island Migratory Stopover Site
Pacific Rim National Park Reserve's 16 km of coastal beaches attract many thousands of people and shorebirds every year. To identify locations where shorebirds concentrate and determine the impact of human activity and habitat characteristics on shorebirds, I conducted shorebird and visitor surveys at 20 beach sectors during fall migration in 2011 to 2013 and spring migration in 2012 and 2013. The probability of shorebird presence decreased with increasing number of people at a beach sector. The time that shorebirds spent at a sector increased with increasing sector width. Close proximity to people increased the proportion of time shorebirds spent moving while shorebirds spent more time moving and less time foraging on wider beaches than on narrower ones. My findings suggest that placing restrictions on beach access and fast moving activities (e.g., running) may be necessary to reduce shorebird disturbance at Pacific Rim and similar stopover areas. Author Keywords: habitat use, human disturbance, predation risk, prey availability, shorebird, stopover

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