Graduate Theses & Dissertations

Shorebird Stopover Ecology and Environmental Change at James Bay, Ontario, Canada
I examined how shorebirds respond to environmental change at a key subarctic migratory bird stopover site, the southwestern coast of James Bay, Ontario, Canada. First, I investigated if the morphology of sandpipers using James Bay during southbound migration has changed compared to 40 years prior. I found shorter, more convex and maneuverable wings for sandpipers in the present-day compared to the historical monitoring period, which supports the hypothesis that wing length change is driven by increases in predation risk. Secondly, I assessed the relationship between migration distance, body condition, and shorebird stopover and migratory decisions. Species that travelled farther distances from James Bay to wintering areas migrated with more characteristics of a time-minimizing migration strategy whereas species that travelled shorter distances migrated with energy minimizing strategies. Body condition impacted length of stay, wind selectivity at departure, groundspeeds, and probability of stopover and detection in North America after departing James Bay. Thirdly, I examined annual variation in dry/wet conditions at James Bay and found that shorebirds had lower body mass in years with moderate drought. In the present-day, drought resulted in lower invertebrate abundance and refuelling rates of shorebirds during stopover, which led to shorter stopover duration for juveniles and a higher probability of stopover outside of James Bay for all groups except white-rumped sandpiper. Finally, I estimated the relative importance of intertidal salt marsh and flat habitats to the diets of small shorebirds and found that semipalmated and white-rumped sandpiper (Calidris pusilla and C. fuscicollis) and semipalmated plover (Charadrius semipalmatus) diets consist of ~ 40 – 75% prey from intertidal marsh habitats, the highest documented in the Western Hemisphere for each species. My research shows that James Bay is of high importance to white-rumped sandpipers, which are unlikely to stop in North America after departing James Bay en route to southern South America. Additionally, intertidal salt marsh habitats (and Diptera larvae) appear particularly important for small shorebirds in the region. My thesis shows that changing environmental conditions, such as droughts, can affect shorebird refuelling and stopover strategies. Author Keywords: body condition, diet, environmental change, migration, ornithology, stopover ecology
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
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
Assessing Canada Lynx Dispersal Across an Elevation Barrier
Mountain ranges are often thought to restrict movement of wildlife, yet previous studies evaluating the role of the Rocky Mountains as a dispersal barrier for Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis) have been contradictory. Our study uses neutral microsatellite loci to evaluate the role of the Rocky Mountains as a barrier to gene flow for lynx. Although lynx exhibited low genetic differentiation, we detected a limited effect of the mountains. Furthermore, we inferred the role played by landscape variables in gene flow (genetic differentiation predicted by landscape resistance). Limited gene flow most strongly related to resistance from physical factors (low snow cover and elevation), rather than other topographic and ecological factors (high terrain roughness, low forest cover, low habitat suitability, and geographic distance). Structural connectivity was a relatively poor predictor of functional connectivity. Overall, the Rockies represent an area of reasonably high functional connectivity for lynx, with limited resistance to gene flow. Author Keywords: Canada lynx, connectivity, gene flow, genetic structure, landscape genetics, Rocky mountains
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

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