Graduate Theses & Dissertations


Aquatic Invertebrate Studies from Two Perspectives
Leaf litter decomposition represents a major pathway for nutrient cycling and carbon flow in aquatic ecosystems, and macroinvertebrates play an important role in the processing of this material. To assess the causes of variable leaf breakdown and nutrient fluxes, I measured decomposition rates and the nutrient release ratios of decomposing leaf material across a broad latitudinal gradient in Ontario boreal lakes which varied in nutrients, temperature, and pH. I examined the effects of macroinvertebrates using inclusion and exclusion bags. Generally, leaves decomposed faster in nutrient-rich, warmer lakes. Macroinvertebrates increased decomposition rates but their effects were relatively small compared to regional effects of nutrients and temperature. In addition, we found differential effects of nutrients and temperature on nutrient release ratios, which were partially determined by the release and retention of N and P. These results indicate that changes in these important environmental lake variables could alter decomposition dynamics in Ontario lakes, with implications for nutrient cycling and the storage of this important external carbon source. I studied the biogeography of predaceous diving beetles (Coleoptera: Dytiscidae) in two remote and understudied regions: the Far North of Ontario, and Akimiski Island, Nunavut. I identified 35 species from northern Ontario, including three first provincial records for Ontario, Acilius athabascae Larson (1975), Hygrotus unguicularis (Crotch 1874), and Nebrioporus depressus (Fabricius 1775). I also documented three significant range extensions and six gap-infills for this region. I collected and identified 16 species from Akimiski Island, Nunavut, which include several first time reports for these species for the Nunavut territory. My collections also extend the known ranges of five species into the Hudson Plains Ecozone. This work provides important baseline information on the distribution of diving beetles for these regions. Author Keywords: biodiversity, Boreal Shield, decomposition, Dytiscidae, ecological stoichiometry, macroinvertebrates
Distribution of Cluster Fly Species (Pollenia, spp. Diptera
This thesis looks at the genus Pollenia: historically where they were first introduced into Canada and spatially, where they are found now. This project involved me identifying 2211 files, sorted from the 3 years of field specimens obtained in 2011, 2012, 2013. P. pediculata was the most abundant and widespread, yielding 1272 specimens out of 2211, and it was found in all provinces sampled. The previous understanding of all Pollenia specimens as being P. rudis appears to be incorrect both in terms of actual number of species – which is known – and how prevalent it is. P. rudis comprised only 20% of the entire collection. The least common was P. griseotomentosa, occurring as 45 of 2211, or 2%. I found new eight first provincial records: four species in Alberta (P. angustigena, P. labialis, P. rudis, P. vagabunda) , one species for Saskatchewan (P. pediculata), two for New Brunswick (P. griseotomentosa, P. labialis), and one for Nova Scotia (P. labialis). P. labialis was new to three provinces, the other species to one province each. Author Keywords: Calliphoridae, Canada, Cluster Fly, Distribution, Pollenia, Provincial Records
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)
Caribou experience direct and indirect negative effects of harassment from biting flies, influencing behavior and activity on several spatial and temporal scales. I used systematic insect collection surveys during the summers of 2011 and 2012 to examine the spatial and temporal distributions of black flies (Simuliidae), mosquitoes (Culicidae), and deer flies and horse flies (Tabanidae) in a managed boreal forest in northern Ontario. Mosquitoes had a positive association with densely treed habitats, whereas black flies more often occurred in open areas, and tabanids had a strong presence in all habitat types. Habitats in proximity to large bodies of water had fewer biting flies than inland areas. Young stands supported higher abundances of tabanids despite vegetation community type. Next, I tested for seasonal effects of biting fly abundance on caribou activity by modelling the seasonal trend in abundance for each fly family for each year and compared this to an index of daily activity for 20 radio-collared female caribou in 2011 and 10 females in 2012. I modeled this index of caribou activity for each animal in each year and extracted the set of partial correlation coefficients from multiple regressions to test for effects of biting fly abundances on caribou activity. Caribou reduced their daily activity when tabanids were more numerous, and increased activity when mosquitoes were numerous. This divergent response may reflect a difference in the efficacy of moving to reduce harassment, owing to the stronger flight capabilities of tabanids. Author Keywords: Activity, Anthropogenic Disturbance, Behaviour, Insect harassment, Temporal distribution, Woodland Caribou
I implemented three hayfield management regimens in southern Ontario (a typical schedule at the farmer`s discretion, a delayed first harvest after July 14, and an early first harvest before June 1 with 65 days before second harvest), and evaluated the costs/benefits to farmers regarding hay quality and feasibility, and to Bobolinks (Dolichonyx oryzivorus) regarding reproductive activity and phenology. Typical management resulted in little to no Bobolink reproductive success, and early harvested sites were not (re)colonized. On delayed harvest sites Bobolinks experienced high reproductive success, but hay quality fell below ideal protein levels for most cattle before harvest. I also examined the habitat features Bobolinks use as the basis for establishing territories and associations between Bobolink territory size and habitat quality. I compared vegetation structure, patch size, and prey abundance between small and large territories. Small territories typically occurred on smaller fields with more preferred vegetation characteristics and greater prey abundance. Author Keywords: agro-ecosystem, Bobolink, Dolichonyx oryzivorus, grassland birds, hayfield management
Effects of Silver Nanoparticles on Lower Trophic Levels in Aquatic Ecosystems
Due to their effective antibacterial and antifungal properties, silver nanoparticles (AgNPs) have quickly become the most commonly used nanomaterial, with applications in industry, medicine and consumer products. This increased use of AgNPs over the past decade will inevitably result in an elevated release of nanoparticles into the environment, highlighting the importance of assessing the environmental impacts of these nanomaterials on aquatic ecosystems. Although numerous laboratory studies have already reported on the negative effects of AgNPs to freshwater organisms, only a handful of studies have investigated the impacts of environmentally relevant levels of AgNPs on whole communities under natural conditions. This thesis examines the effects of chronic AgNP exposure on natural freshwater littoral microcrustacean, benthic macroinvertebrate and pelagic zooplankton communities. To assess the responses of these communities to AgNPs, I focused on a solely field-based approach, combining a six-week mesocosm study with a three-year whole lake experiment at the IISD – Experimental Lakes Area (Ontario, Canada). Our mesocosm study tested the effects of AgNP concentration (low, medium and high dose), surface coating (citrate- and polyvinylpyrrolidone [PVP]-coated AgNPs), and type of exposure (chronic and pulsed addition) on benthic macroinvertebrates in fine and stony sediments. Relative abundances of metal-tolerant Chironomidae in fine sediments were highest in high dose PVP-AgNP treatments; however, no negative effects of AgNP exposure were seen on biodiversity metrics or overall community structure throughout the study. I observed similar results within the whole lake study that incorporated a long-term addition of low levels of AgNPs to an experimental lake. Mixed-effects models and multivariate methods revealed a decline in all species of the littoral microcrustacean family Chydoridae in the final year of the study within our experimental lake, suggesting that this taxon may be sensitive to AgNP exposure; however, these effects were fairly subtle and were not reflected in the overall composition of littoral communities. No other negative effects of AgNPs were observed on the pelagic zooplankton or benthic macroinvertebrate communities. My results demonstrate that environmentally relevant levels of AgNPs have little impact on natural freshwater microcrustacean and benthic macroinvertebrate communities. Instead, biodiversity metrics and community structure are primarily influenced by seasonal dynamics and nutrient concentrations across both lakes. This thesis highlights the importance of incorporating environmental conditions and the natural variability of communities when examining the potential risks posed by the release of AgNPs into the environment, as simplistic laboratory bioassays may not provide an adequate assessment of the long-term impacts of AgNPs on freshwater systems. Author Keywords: Benthic macroinvertebrates, IISD - Experimental Lakes Area, Littoral microcrustaceans, Silver nanoparticles, Whole lake experiment, Zooplankton
Enhancing forensic entomology applications
The purpose of this thesis is to enhance forensic entomology applications through identifications and ecological research with samples collected in collaboration with the OPP and RCMP across Canada. For this, we focus on blow flies (Diptera: Calliphoridae) and present data collected from 2011-2013 from different terrestrial habitats to analyze morphology and species composition. Specifically, these data were used to: 1) enhance and simplify morphological identifications of two commonly caught forensically relevant species; Phormia regina and Protophormia terraenovae, using their frons-width to head-width ratio as an additional identifying feature where we found distinct measurements between species, and 2) to assess habitat specificity for urban and rural landscapes, and the scale of influence on species composition when comparing urban and rural habitats across all locations surveyed where we found an effect of urban habitat on blow fly species composition. These data help refine current forensic entomology applications by adding to the growing knowledge of distinguishing morphological features, and our understanding of habitat use by Canada’s blow fly species which may be used by other researchers or forensic practitioners. Author Keywords: Calliphoridae, Ecology, Forensic Entomology, Forensic Science, Morphology, Urban
Enhancing post-mortem interval estimates
The growth of immature insects that develop on human remains can be used to estimate a post-mortem interval (PMI). PMI estimate confidence is negatively affected by: larval killing and preservation methods altering their size, limited morphological parameters to assess larval growth and therefore age, and few available alternate species development data. I compared live specimens to preserved specimens of the same development stages to assess the effects of killing-preservation techniques on morphology, and I introduce a new method that uses digital photography to examine maggot mouthparts for stage grading of Phormia regina. Digital photographic methods enable live insects to be quantified and improve approximations of physiological age. I then use these digital methods to produce a growth-rate model for a beetle commonly found on human remains, Necrodes surinamensis, providing data for PMI estimates that was previously unavailable. Author Keywords: Forensic Entomology, Insect development, Morphometrics, Necrodes surinamensis, Phormia regina, Postmortem interval
Impact of Invasive Earthworms on Soil Respiration and Soil Carbon within Temperate Hardwood Forests
Improving current understanding of the factors that control soil carbon (C) dynamics in forest ecosystems remains an important topic of research as it plays an integral role in the fertility of forest soils and the global carbon cycle. Invasive earthworms have the potential to alter soil C dynamics, though mechanisms and effects remain poorly understood. To investigate potential effects of invasive earthworms on forest C the forest floor, mineral soil, fine root biomass, litterfall and litter decomposition rates and total soil respiration (TSR) over a full year were measured at two invaded and one uninvaded deciduous forest sites in southern Ontario. The uninvaded site was approximately 300m from one of the invaded sites and a distinct invasion front between the sites was present. Along the invasion front, the biomass of the forest floor was negatively correlated with earthworm abundance and biomass. There was no significant difference between litterfall, litter decomposition and TSR between the invaded and uninvaded sites, but fine root biomass was approximately 30% lower at the invaded site. There was no significant difference in soil C pools between the invaded and uninvaded sites. Despite profound impacts on forest floor soil C pools, earthworm invasion does not significantly increase TSR, most likely because increased heterotrophic respiration associated with earthworms is largely offset by a decrease in autotrophic respiration caused by lower fine root biomass. Author Keywords: Biological Invasions, Carbon, Earthworms, Forest Ecosystems, Forest Floor, Soil Respiration
Intra-seasonal Variation in Black Tern Nest-site Selection and Survival
Resources and risk are in constant flux and an organism’s ability to manage change may improve their likelihood of persistence. I examined intra-seasonal variation in nest-site selection and survival of a declining wetland bird, the Black Tern (Chlidonias niger surinamensis). I modelled nest site occupancy and survival of early and late-nesting birds as a function of static and dynamic factors. Early-nesting birds selected nest sites based on the degree and direction of habitat change that occurred over the nesting cycle, while late-nesting birds selected sites based on static conditions near the time of nest-site selection. Nest age had the strongest influence on daily survival rate for both early and late-nesting birds, but the shape of this relationship showed intra-seasonal differences. Additionally, early-season survival improved slightly with increasing vegetation coverage and distance between conspecific nests, while late-season survival increased with clutch size. My results suggest that intra-seasonal variation in nest-site selection and survival is driven by changing habitat conditions and predator behavior. Author Keywords: Black Tern, Chlidonias niger surinamensis, daily survival rate, intra-seasonal variation, nest-site selection
Longitudinal trends of benthic invertebrates in regulated rivers
The Serial Discontinuity Concept describes the downstream recovery of key biophysical variables below an impoundment. With the proliferation of hydropower dams to meet increasing societal demands, further refinement and understanding of the Serial Discontinuity Concept is needed to accurately predict downstream impacts and ensure the proper management of rivers. In this study, I examine SDC predictions on physical, chemical and biological recovery in regulated rivers providing evidence from 1) a comprehensive literature review and 2) a formal test using two regulated rivers in Northern Ontario. I specifically address how these changes are reflected in benthic invertebrate abundance, diversity, and community composition. The literature review and case studies support the predicted recovery of temperature, periphyton, substrate, and drift. In addition, the study suggests that two recovery gradients exist in regulated rivers: 1) a longer, thermal gradient taking up to hundreds of kilometres downstream; and 2) a shorter, resource subsidy gradient recovering within 1-4 km downstream of an impoundment. Total benthic invertebrate abundance varies considerably and depends on the degree of flow alteration and resource subsidies from the upstream reservoir. In contrast, benthic diversity is reduced below dams irrespective of dam location and operation with little recovery observed downstream. Contrary to SDC predictions, the longitudinal gradient in regulated rivers is not a compaction of functional changes seen over several stream orders in natural rivers but a response to dam design and reservoir conditions. Stoneflies and dragonflies are particularly sensitive to regulation while filter feeding invertebrates are enhanced. Ward and Stanford's (1983) Serial Discontinuity Concept is still a useful framework for testing hypotheses. Future studies should further expand the SDC through empirical estimation within the context of the landscape to gain a better scientific understanding of regulated river ecology. Author Keywords: benthic invertebrates, dams, longitudinal, recovery, River Continuum Concept, Serial Discontinuity Concept
Population Genetics and Scarification Requirements of Gymnocladus dioicus
The Kentucky coffee tree (Gymnocladus dioicus) is an endangered tree species native to the American Midwest and Southwestern Ontario. Significant habitat loss and fragmentation due to agricultural, industrial and urban development has caused gradual decline across its native range. The aims of this study were to investigate: (1) patterns of genetic diversity and, (2) genetic differentiation (3) relative levels of sexual vs. clonal reproduction, and (4) potential for reduced genetic diversity at range edge for wild G. dioicus populations. An analysis of variation at nine microsatellite loci from populations in the core of the species distribution in the U.S.A. and 4 regions of Southwestern Ontario indicated that G. dioicus has remarkably high genetic similarity across its range (average pairwise FST= 0.05). Germination trials revealed that the seed coats require highly invasive treatments (e.g. 17.93 mol/L H2SO4) to facilitate imbibition, with negligible germination observed in treatments meant to emulate prevailing conditions in natural populations. Low levels of sexual reproduction, high genetic similarity, and habitat degradation are issues that exist across the entire native range of G. dioicus. Author Keywords:


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