Graduate Theses & Dissertations


Investigating the regional variation in frequencies of the invasive hybrid cattail, Typha × glauca
Interspecific hybridization rates can vary depending on genomic compatibilities between progenitors, while subsequent hybrid spread can vary depending on hybrid performance and habitat availability for hybrid establishment and persistence. As a result, hybridization rates and hybrid frequencies can vary across regions of parental sympatry. In areas around the Laurentian Great Lakes, Typha × glauca is an invasive plant hybrid of native Typha latifolia and introduced Typha angustifolia. In areas of parental sympatry in Atlantic Canada and outside of North America, T. × glauca has been reported as either rare or non-existent. I investigated whether the low frequencies of hybrids documented in Nova Scotia, Atlantic Canada, are influenced by reproductive barriers that prevent hybrid formation or environmental factors (salinity) that reduce hybrid performance. I identified an abundance of hybrids in the Annapolis Valley (inland) and a scarcity of hybrids in coastal wetlands through preliminary site surveys throughout Nova Scotia. In Annapolis Valley populations, flowering times of progenitor species overlapped, indicating that asynchronous flowering times do not limit hybrid formation in this region. Viable progeny were created from interspecific crosses of T. latifolia and T. angustifolia from Nova Scotia, indicating that there are no genomic barriers to fertilization and germination of hybrid seeds. Typha × glauca germination in high salinity was significantly lower than that of T. latifolia, but there was no difference at lower salinities. Therefore, while germination of hybrid seeds may be impeded in the coastal wetlands where salinity is high, inland sites have lower salinity and thus an environment conducive to hybrid germination. However, I found that once established as seedlings, hybrids appear to have greater performance over T. latifolia across all salinities through higher ramet production. Moreover, I found that T. latifolia sourced from Ontario had reduced germination and lower survivorship in high salinities compared to T. latifolia sourced from Nova Scotia, which could indicate local adaptation by T. latifolia to increased salinity. These findings underline that interactions between environment and local progenitor lineages can influence the viability and the consequent distribution and abundance of hybrids. This, in turn, can help explain why hybrids demonstrate invasiveness in some areas of parental sympatry but remain largely absent from other areas. Author Keywords: flowering phenology, Hybridization, invasive species, physiology, pollen compatibility, salinity tolerance
Genomic architecture of artificially and sexually selected traits in white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus)
Understanding the complex genomic architecture underlying quantitative traits can provide valuable insight for the conservation and management of wildlife. Despite improvements in sequencing technologies, few empirical studies have identified quantitative trait loci (QTL) via whole genome sequencing in free-ranging mammal populations outside a few well-studied systems. This thesis uses high-depth whole genome pooled re-sequencing to characterize the molecular basis of the natural variation observed in two sexually selected, heritable traits in white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus, WTD). Specifically, sampled individuals representing the phenotypic extremes from an island population of WTD for antler and body size traits. Our results showed a largely homogenous genome between extreme phenotypes for each trait, with many highly differentiated regions throughout the genome, indicative of a quantitative model for polygenic traits. We identified and validated several potential QTL of putatively small-to-moderate effect for each trait, and discuss the potential for real-world application to conservation and management. Author Keywords: evolution, extreme phenotypes, genetics, genomics, quantitative traits, sexual selection
Do birds of a feather flock together
Populations have long been delineated by physical barriers that appear to limit reproduction, yet increasingly genetic analysis reveal these delineations to be inaccurate. The eastern and mid-continent populations of sandhill cranes are expanding ranges which is leading to convergence and warrants investigation of the genetic structure between the two populations. Obtaining blood or tissue samples for population genetics analysis can be costly, logistically challenging, and may require permits as well as potential risk to the study species. Non-invasively collected genetic samples overcome these challenges, but present challenges in terms of obtaining high quality DNA for analysis. Therefore, methods that optimize the quality of non-invasive samples are necessary. In the following thesis, I examined factors affecting DNA quality and quantity obtained from shed feathers and examined population differentiation between eastern and mid-continent sandhill cranes. I found shed feathers are robust to environmental factors, but feather size should be prioritized to increase DNA quantity and quality. Further, I found little differentiation between eastern and mid-continent populations with evidence of high migration and isolation-by-distance. Thus, the two populations are not genetically discrete. I recommend future population models incorporate migration between populations to enhance our ability to successfully manage and reach conservation objectives. Author Keywords: feathers, genetic differentiation, non-invasive DNA, population genetics, population management, sandhill crane (Antigone canadensis)
Assessing Molecular and Ecological Differentiation in Wild Carnivores
Wild populations are notoriously difficult to study due to confounding stochastic variables. This thesis tackles two components of investigating wild populations. The first examines the use of niche modeling to quantify macro-scale predator-prey relationships in canid populations across eastern North America, while the second examines range-wide molecular structure in Canada lynx. The goal of the first chapter is to quantify niche characteristics in a Canis hybrid zone of C. lupus, C. lycaon, and C. latrans to better understand the ecological differentiation of these species, and to assess the impacts of incorporating biotic interactions into species distribution models. The goal of the second chapter is to determine if DNA methylation, an epigenetic marker that modifies the structure of DNA, can be used to differentiate populations, and might be a signature of local adaptation. Our results indicated that canids across the hybrid zone in eastern North America exhibit low levels of genetic and ecological differentiation, and that the importance of biotic interactions are largely lost at large spatial scales. We also identified cryptic structure in methylation patterns in Canada lynx populations, which suggest signatures of local adaptation, and indicate the utility of DNA methylation as a marker for investigating adaptive divergence. Author Keywords: Ecological Epigenetics, Ecological Genetics, SDM
Evaluation of silver nanoparticles (AgNPs) and anti-GD2-AgNP antibody-drug conjugates as novel neuroblastoma therapies
Neuroblastoma (NB) has one of the highest mortality rates in pediatric oncology due to relapsed and refractory disease. Current aggressive multi-modal treatments are inhibited by dose-limiting toxicities and are associated with late-effects and secondary malignancies, emphasizing the necessity for novel therapeutics. Uniquely, most NB cells highly express disialoganglioside (GD2) a cell surface glycolipid that can provide a target for tumour-specific delivery. This study demonstrates a comprehensive evaluation of silver nanoparticles (AgNPs) and the first preliminary evaluation of anti-GD2-AgNP antibody-drug conjugates (ADCs) against NB in vitro. This present study validates the potential for AgNPs as an anti-cancer agent against NB as AgNPs demonstrated preferential toxicity towards NB cells through metabolic inhibition and indicative morphological alterations, while a less tumorigenic cell line demonstrated resistance to AgNP treatment. Therefore, this work identified an AgNP cell-type-dependent cytotoxicity effect. Low conjugation efficiency of the anti-GD2 monoclonal antibody, 14.G2a, to NHS-activated AgNPs failed to exert greater toxicity than the AgNPs alone. Collectively, this thesis provides novel information regarding the anti-cancer effects of AgNPs against NB with recommendations for anti-GD2-AgNP ADCs. Author Keywords: ADC, Chemotherapy, GD2, Neuroblastoma, Silver nanoparticles
Frog Virus 3
Understanding the maintenance and spread of invasive diseases is critical in evaluating threats to biodiversity and how to best minimize their impact, which can by done by monitoring disease occurrences across time and space. I sought to apply existing and upcoming molecular tools to assess fluctuations in both presence and strain variation of frog virus 3 (FV3), a species of Ranavirus, across Canadian waterbodies. I explored the temporal patterns and spatial distribution of ranavirus presence across multiple months and seasons using environmental DNA techniques. Results indicate that ranavirus was present in approximately 72.5% of waterbodies sampled on a fine geographical scale (<10km between sites, 7,150 km2), with higher detection rates in later summer months than earlier. I then explored the sequence variability at the major capsid protein gene (MCP) and putative virulence gene (vIF-2α) of FV3 samples from Ontario, Alberta, and the Northwest Territories, with the premise of understanding pathogen movement across the landscape. However, a lack of genetic diversity was found across regions, likely due to a lack of informative variation at the chosen genetic markers or lack of mutation. Instead, I found a novel FV3-like ranavirus and evidence for a recombinant between FV3 and a ranavirus of another lineage. This thesis provides a deeper understanding into the spatio-temporal distribution of FV3, with an idea of how widespread and threatening ranaviruses are to amphibian diversity. Keywords: ranavirus, frog virus 3, amphibians, environmental DNA, phylogenetics, wildlife disease, disease surveillance, major capsid protein, vIF-2α Author Keywords: amphibians, environmental DNA, frog virus 3, phylogenetics, ranavirus, wildlife disease
Using environmental DNA (eDNA) metabarcoding to assess aquatic plant communities
Environmental DNA (eDNA) metabarcoding targets sequences with interspecific variation that can be amplified using universal primers allowing simultaneous detection of multiple species from environmental samples. I developed novel primers for three barcodes commonly used to identify plant species, and compared amplification success for aquatic plant DNA against pre-existing primers. Control eDNA samples of 45 plant species showed that species-level identification was highest for novel matK and preexisting ITS2 primers (42% each); remaining primers each identified between 24% and 33% of species. Novel matK, rbcL, and pre-existing ITS2 primers combined identified 88% of aquatic species. The novel matK primers identified the largest number of species from eDNA collected from the Black River, Ontario; 21 aquatic plant species were identified using all primers. This study showed that eDNA metabarcoding allows for simultaneous detection of aquatic plants including invasive species and species-at-risk, thereby providing a biodiversity assessment tool with a variety of applications. Author Keywords: aquatic plants, biodiversity, bioinformatics, environmental DNA (eDNA), high-throughput sequencing, metabarcoding
De novo transcriptome assembly, functional annotation, and SNP discovery in North American flying squirrels (genus Glaucomys)
Introgressive hybridization between northern (Glaucomys sabrinus) and southern flying squirrels (G. volans) has been observed in some areas of Canada and the USA. However, existing molecular markers lack the resolution to discriminate late-generation introgressants and describe the extent to which hybridization influences the Glaucomys gene pool. I report the first North American flying squirrel (genus Glaucomys) functionally annotated de novo transcriptome assembly with a set of 146,621 high-quality, annotated putative species-diagnostic SNP markers. RNA-sequences were obtained from two northern flying squirrels and two southern flying squirrels sampled from Ontario, Canada. I reconstructed 702,228 Glaucomys transcripts using 193,323,120 sequence read-pairs, and captured sequence homologies, protein domains, and gene function classifications. These genomic resources can be used to increase the resolution of molecular techniques used to examine the dynamics of the Glaucomys hybrid zone. Author Keywords: annotation, de novo transcriptome, flying squirrels, high-throughput sequencing, hybridization, single nucleotide polymorphisms
Cytokinin biosynthesis, signaling and translocation during the formation of tumors in the Ustilago maydis-Zea mays pathosystem
Cytokinins (CKs) are hormones that promote cell division. During the formation of tumors in the Ustilago maydis-Zea mays pathosystem, the levels of CKs are elevated. Although CK levels are increased, the origins of these CKs have not been determined and it is unclear as to whether they promote the formation of tumors. To determine this, we measured the CK levels, identified CK biosynthetic genes as well as CK signaling genes and measured the transcript levels during pathogenesis. By correlating the transcript levels to the CK levels, our results suggest that increased biosynthesis and signaling of CKs occur in both organisms. The increase in CK biosynthesis by the pathosystem could lead to an increase in CK signaling via CK translocation and promote tumor formation. Taken together, these suggest that CK biosynthesis, signaling and translocation play a significant role during the formation of tumors in the Ustilago maydis-Zea mays pathosystem. Author Keywords: Biosynthesis, Cytokinins, Signaling, Translocation, Ustilago maydis, Zea mays
Assessment of an adult lake sturgeon translocation (Acipenser fulvescens) reintroduction effort in a fragmented river system
North American freshwater fishes are declining rapidly due to habitat fragmentation, degradation, and loss. In some cases, translocations can be used to reverse local extirpations by releasing species in suitable habitats that are no longer naturally accessible. Lake sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens) experienced historical overharvest across their distribution, leading to endangered species listings and subsequent protection and recovery efforts. Despite harvest and habitat protections, many populations do not appear to be recovering, which has been attributed to habitat alteration and fragmentation by dams. In 2002, 51 adult lake sturgeon from the Mattagami River, Ontario, Canada were translocated 340 km upstream to a fragmented 35 km stretch of the river between two hydroelectric generating stations, where sturgeon were considered extirpated. This study assessed the translocation effort using telemetry (movement), demographics and genetic data. Within the first year, a portion of the radio-tagged translocated individuals dispersed out of the release area, and released radio-tagged individuals used different areas than individuals radio-tagged ten years later. Catches of juvenile lake sturgeon have increased over time, with 150 juveniles caught within the duration of this study. The reintroduced population had similar genetic diversity as the source population, with a marked reduction in effective population size (Ne). The results indicate that the reintroduction effort was successful, with evidence of successful spawning and the presence of juvenile lake sturgeon within the reintroduction site. Overall, the results suggest adult translocations may be a useful tool for re-establishing other extirpated lake sturgeon populations. Author Keywords: conservation, endangered species, lake sturgeon, reintroduction, telemetry, translocation
Using DNA Barcoding to Investigate the Diet and Food Supply of a Declining Aerial Insectivote, the Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica)
Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) populations have declined in North America over the past 40 years and they are listed as Threatened in Ontario, Canada. Changes in the food supply have been hypothesized as a potential cause of this population decline. I used DNA barcoding to investigate the diet and food supply of Barn Swallows and to determine if the food supply affects their reproductive performance. In two breeding seasons, I monitored nests, collected fecal samples, and monitored prey availability by collecting insects from the habitat surrounding breeding sites using Malaise traps. I used DNA barcoding to identify insect specimens collected from the habitat and to identify prey items from Barn Swallow nestling fecal samples. I found that Barn Swallow nestlings were fed a very broad range of prey items but were fed larger prey items more frequently. Prey availability was not related to the timing of reproduction, the number of nests at a breeding site, or the reproductive output of individual nests. This study provides information on the diet composition of Barn Swallows in North America and suggests that food limitation during the breeding season may not be a major factor in their population decline. Author Keywords: aerial insectivore, diet, DNA barcoding, Hirundo rustica, metabarcoding, reproductive success
Functional Investigation of A Ustilago maydis Xylose Metabolism Gene and its Antisense Transcripts
Ustilago maydis is a biotrophic fungal plant pathogen that causes ‘common smut of corn’ disease. During infection, U. maydis develops a metabolic dependency on its host, relying on uptake of the carbon molecules provided within Zea mays tissues. The research presented indicated a requirement for metabolism of the pentose sugar D-xylose through functional investigation of a U. maydis xylitol dehydrogenase (uxm1), an enzyme involved in the bioconversion of D-xylose. This work is the first to outline the importance of pentose metabolism during biotrophic plant pathogenesis, as U. maydis haploid cells lacking this gene were impaired in their ability to cause disease and grow on medium containing only D-xylose. This thesis also explored the possibility that expression of this carbon-related gene is controlled by antisense RNAs (asRNAs), endogenous molecules with complementarity to mRNAs. Previous investigation of U. maydis asRNAs identified some that are exclusively expressed in the dormant teliospore, suggesting they have a functional role within this cell-type. A subset of these asRNAs at the uxm1 locus were investigated, with the purpose of identifying the mechanism(s) by which they influence U. maydis pathogenesis. This investigation involved the creation and functional analysis of a series of U. maydis deletion and expression strains. Together, these findings provided additional knowledge regarding the possible functions of U. maydis asRNAs, and their involvement in controlling important cellular processes, such as carbon metabolism and pathogenesis. Author Keywords: antisense transcripts, fungal carbon metabolism, non-coding RNAs, pathogenesis, Ustilago maydis, xylitol dehydrogenase


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