Graduate Theses & Dissertations


Breeding Phenology and Migration Habits of Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus) in the Hudson Bay Lowlands, Canada
Understanding breeding and migration habits of Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus) in the Hudson Bay Lowlands is important for the conservation of this population. I monitored Whimbrel at two breeding sites: the Churchill region of Manitoba and Burntpoint, Ontario. Annual average nest initiation timing was highly variable and successful nests were initiated significantly earlier than those that failed. Although nests were initiated significantly earlier at Burntpoint than Churchill, annual nest success quantified in program R MARK was similar across sites. Observed nest success rates were lower than historical records and most failure was due to predation. Annual nest survival varied widely and I used a generalized linear model to relate annual nest survival to annual average weather conditions. I observed weak relationships between annual nest survival and weather conditions in the northbound staging grounds. I tracked post-breeding migratory movements using the MOTUS radio telemetry system and observed consistent use of the mid-Atlantic coast of the United States during migration, especially among birds emerging from Churchill. In Burntpoint, I observed more variability in post-breeding migratory trajectories and significantly earlier post-breeding departure as compared to Churchill. The results of my study suggest differences in breeding and migration habits exist across nearby breeding populations, indicating that there is a need for population-specific conservation approaches for this declining species. Author Keywords: Migration, Movement Ecology, Nesting Ecology, Nest Success, Shorebird conservation, Whimbrel
Passage population size, demography, and timing of migration of Red Knots (Calidris canutus rufa) staging in southwestern James Bay
Many shorebirds rely on small numbers of staging sites during long annual migrations. Numerous species are declining and understanding the importance of staging sites is critical to successful conservation. We surveyed endangered rufa Red Knots staging in James Bay, Ontario during southbound migration from 2009 to 2018. We used an integrated population model to estimate passage population size in 2017 and 2018 and found that up to 27% of the total rufa population staged in James Bay. We also extended the model to incorporate age composition of the passage population. In future applications, this method could improve our understanding of the role of breeding success in population declines. We then estimated annual apparent survival from 2009 to 2018. Survival remained near constant, though lower than estimated elsewhere in the Red Knot range, which may reflect higher permanent emigration rates rather than truly lower survival. This work demonstrates that this northern region is a key staging site for endangered Red Knots and should be included in conservation planning. Author Keywords: integrated population model, mark-recapture, migratory stopover, shorebirds, species at risk, survival
Shorebird Habitat Use and Foraging Ecology on Bulls Island, South Carolina During the Non-Breeding Season
Recent declines in North American shorebird populations could be linked to habitat loss on the non-breeding grounds. Sea-level rise and increased frequency of coastal storms are causing significant erosion of barrier islands, thereby threatening shorebirds who rely on shoreline habitats for foraging. I conducted shorebird surveys on Bulls Island, South Carolina in the winters of 2018 and 2019 and examined habitat selection and foraging behaviour in Dunlin (Calidris alpina), Sanderling (Calidris alba), Semipalmated Plovers (Charadrius semipalmatus), and Piping Plovers (Charadrius melodus). Area, tidal stage, and invertebrate prey availability were important determinants of shorebird abundance, behaviour, and distribution. My study highlights the importance of Bulls Island’s habitat heterogeneity to supporting a diverse community of non-breeding shorebirds. Considering both the high rate of erosion and the increased frequency of disturbance along the shoreline of the island, intertidal habitats should be monitored to predict negative effects of changes in habitat composition and area on non-breeding shorebirds. Author Keywords: foraging behaviour, habitat loss, habitat selection, invertebrate prey, non-breeding, shorebirds
Indirect Effects of Hyperabundant Geese on Sympatric-Nesting Shorebirds
Rising populations of Lesser Snow and Ross’ geese (hereafter collectively referred to as light geese) breeding in the North American Arctic have caused significant environmental change that may be affecting some populations of nesting shorebirds, which in contrast to geese, have declined dramatically. In this thesis I examine the indirect effects of light geese on sympatric-nesting shorebirds. I first conduct a literature review of the effects of light geese on northern wildlife and outline multiple mechanisms in which geese may affect shorebirds in particular. Using bird survey data collected in plots situated across the Canadian Arctic from 1999 to 2016, I then identify spatial effects of light goose colonies on shorebird, passerine, and generalist predator densities. The densities of cover- nesting shorebirds and passerines were depressed near goose colonies while the densities of open-nesting shorebirds were less so. Next, using habitat data collected at random sites and shorebird nest sites situated at increasing distances from a goose colony on Southampton Island, Nunavut, I outline the effects of geese on shorebird nest site selection. I found that the availability of sedge meadow and amount of lateral concealment increased as a function of distance from goose colony; cover-nesting shorebirds selecting nest sites with less concealment and sedge meadow near the colony. Then, to characterize spatial effects of light geese on predators and risk of predation I used time-lapse cameras and artificial shorebird nests placed at increasing distances from the goose colony. Activity indices of gulls, jaegers, and foxes were all negatively correlated with distance from the goose colony while the reverse was true for artificial nest survival probability. Finally, I relate changes in ground cover to goose use and link these changes to variation in invertebrate communities. I then use DNA metabarcoding to characterize the diet of six shorebird species across study sites and identify inter-site variation in the biomass of dominant shorebird prey items. Prey item biomass was elevated at the two study sites near the goose colony potentially indicating an enhancing effect of goose fecal deposition. Overall, I show that light geese interact with shorebirds in multiple ways and negatively affect their habitat availability, nest site selection, and risk of predation, effects that likely outweigh the positive effects of enhanced prey availability. Author Keywords:
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
spatial and temporal distribution of tabanid (Chrysops, Hybomitra and Tabanus) species in the Nakina district of northwestern Ontario
This thesis focused on expanding knowledge of Hybomitra, Chrysops and Tabanus (Diptera: Tabanidae) distributions north of Lake Nipigon, Ontario, in a managed boreal forest. As land use and climate changes accelerate, there is increased pressure to increase knowledge from which to monitor changes. In 2011 and 2012, 8928 individuals representing, 44 species were captured using sweep netting. Major northward range extensions were observed for Chrysops shermani, C. aberrans and Tabanus fairchildi. Smaller range extensions and in-fills were observed for another 15 species. 23 species had exntensions to their previously known seasonal range. C. carbonarius was the only species that showed an extension to both sides of its season. In general, harvested stands had 50% more individuals and 30% greater species richness than younger stands. A possible link between stand age and interspecific competition was identified. Information has been provided to build baseline of species richness, relative abundance and distribution of Tabanid flies. Author Keywords: diptera, distribution, natural history, northern Ontario, species range, tabanid
Enduring Attack
Numerous prey taxa employ defensive postures for protection against attack by predators. Defensive postures mitigate predation risk at various stages of the predator-prey sequence, including through crypsis, mimicry, thanatosis, aposematism, and deflection. In terrestrial salamanders, defensive postures may be aposematic, or deflect attacks away from vital body parts and towards the tail, however the extent to which these strategies act exclusively or synergistically remains poorly understood. Herein I demonstrate a novel approach to study the function of salamander defensive postures through experimental manipulation of predator response to antipredator behaviour in a natural field setting. I deployed 1600 clay salamander prey on Pelee Island, Ontario, manipulating prey size (small, large) and posture (resting, defensive) and documented attack rates across three predator types to further assess the effect of prey body size and predator type on antipredator efficacy. My research suggests that irrespective of prey body size, defensive posture does not function through aposematism, but rather acts to deflect predator attacks to the tail, which is commonly noxious and expendable in terrestrial salamanders. An intriguing possibility is that this behaviour facilitates taste-rejection by predators. Overall, my research should further contribute to our understanding of the importance and potential evolutionary significance of defensive posturing in Ambystoma salamanders, and more broadly, on the determinants of prey vulnerability to predation. I also briefly discuss the implications of my results to the conservation of Ambystoma populations on Pelee Island. Author Keywords: Anti-predator behaviour, Aposematism, Attack deflection, Predator avoidance, Small-mouthed salamander, Taste-rejection
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
Sexual Dimporphism and Population Dynamics of Sub-Arctic Breding Dunlin (Calidris alpina hudsonia) near Churchill, Manitoba, Canada
Around the world, many populations of migratory shorebirds appear to be declining. Conservation strategies to reverse declining trends rely on, among other information, a firm understanding of breeding ground population dynamics. From 2010 to 2014, I studied a breeding population of Dunlin (Calidris alpina hudsonia) near Churchill, Manitoba using mark-recapture methods. I found that females were significantly larger than males. I subsequently developed an equation based on morphological features that successfully classified 87.1% of females and 92.6% of males, sexed using molecular techniques. Using program MARK, I quantified the annual apparent survival of adults (± SE) within the breeding population (0.82 ± 0.063 for males, 0.73 ± 0.12 for females). Transient adults made up a significant percentage of the female population (32%, P = 0.011), but non-significant in the male population (12%, P > 0.05). Re-sight rate was high for both sexes, and ranged from 0.86-0.90 per year. Sex, year, and nest initiation date were the factors that had the greatest influence on annual returns. There was no significant difference in mean inter-annual nest site distance between sexes (male: 82.01 ± 13.42 m, female: 208.38 ± 55.88 m, P > 0.05). The high survival estimates obtained in this study suggest that the breeding population is stable and may not be contributing to suspected population declines within the subspecies. Author Keywords: demography, discriminant function analysis, mark-recapture, sexual size dimorphism, survival
Incidental Take and Population Dynamics of Nesting Birds in a Red Pine (Pinus resinosa) Plantation Under Single-Tree Selection Harvesting
I determined the direct influence of single-tree selection harvesting on the daily nest survival rates and nest success of 5 focal bird species within a monotypic red pine (Pinus resinosa) plantation on the western edge of the Oak Ridges Moraine in southern Ontario, Canada. I located and monitored 290 nests during the 2012 and 2013 breeding season. I used the logistic-exposure method to evaluate the daily nest survival rates of American Robin (Turdus migratorius), Eastern Wood-pewee (Contopus virens), Ovenbird (Seiurus aurocapilla), Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus), and Red-eyed Vireo (Vireo olivaceus). Only five nests were destroyed as a result of forestry activity over the study period. Neither daily nest survival rates nor nest success of these focal species were substantially affected by single-tree selection harvesting. I also monitored the impact of single-tree selection harvesting on the density and territory size of 4 of 5 focal species. Ovenbird had a significantly smaller territory size but decreased density in the harvested areas. Although not significant, Eastern Wood-pewee and Red-eyed Vireo tended to have higher densities and larger territory sizes in harvested areas, whereas Rose-breasted Grosbeak showed a mixed effect as density was higher while territory size was smaller. Single-tree selection produces minor to moderate disturbance that takes place locally over a short period of time. As a result, nests that are indirectly disturbed by nearby harvesting, felling trees and mechanical operations and are not destroyed remain and adults do not appear to abandon eggs or young from the disturbance. Habitat alteration from harvesting of the general forest structure and especially the forest floor must be minimized in order to conserve forest bird species diversity. Further research examining incidental take using various intensities of single-tree selection harvesting would provide important insight into maintaining avian and forest diversity by means of forest management. Author Keywords: daily nest survival rates, forest management, Incidental Take, nest success, red pine monotypic forest, single-tree selection harvesting
Stopover Movement Patterns by Blackpoll and Canada Warblers Across Southeastern Canada During Fall Migration
Stopover ecology is a topic that surges in relevancy as choices made by migrants during stationary periods (stopover sites) may not only have important individuals’ fitness consequences but also can affect population dynamics. I used MOTUS automated telemetry array to study fall stopover duration of Blackpoll Warbler (BLPW) and departure decisions of BLPW and Canada Warbler (CAWA) in relation to various predictors. I affixed radio-transmitters on 55 BLPWs and 32 CAWAs at two banding stations in Ontario in September-October 2014-2015. Radio-tagged individuals were tracked through the MOTUS network across southeastern Canada. I developed models relating age class, fat score, Julian date and stopover movement types to Blackpolls’ stopover duration. I also examined whether there were species-related differences of wind selectivity when resuming migration. No explanatory variable significantly influenced BLPW’s stopover duration. Both species tended to depart under increased tailwind assistance, but with no difference in the effect of wind conditions between the two species. This study provides further evidence supporting the relevance of local wind conditions as a key factor affecting the departure likelihood, especially when migrating birds face an ecological barrier. Author Keywords: Cardellina canadensis, departure decisions, minimum stopover length, MOTUS, overland fall migration, Setophaga striata
Scarring, sex assignment, and sex-specific sociality of Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins (Sousa chinensis) in the Pearl River Estuary and eastern Taiwan Strait
The Pearl River Estuary (PRE) and eastern Taiwan Strait (ETS) populations of Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins (Sousa chinensis) contain ~600 and 100 catalogued individuals, respectively. Population demography is important for conservation actions but few animals have been sexed by conventional methods. Longitudinal analysis of tooth-rake scars on dorsal fins showed scars disappear within 7 months; sexing adults by scarring is likely not impacted by juvenile scarring. Using dorsal fin photographs, sex assigned for 87% of catalogued PRE adults (n=300) and for 93% of ETS adults (n=60), using scars hypothesized from male-male competition, was in concordance with sex assigned by DNA, calf association, and ventral photographs. Scarring was higher in presumed males than females and in PRE females than ETS females. Female:male sex ratios were 3:2 (PRE) and 2:1 (ETS), though this likely results from biases in photo-identification methods. Social analysis with presumed sexes showed strong female-female associations in both populations but stronger female-male and male-male associations in PRE. These results support sex differentiation by scarring, which was a non-invasive approach, and sex assignment for many PRE and ETS individuals. Author Keywords: Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins, photo-identification, scarring, sex differentiation, sexes, social structure


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