Graduate Theses & Dissertations


multi-faceted approach to evaluating the detection probability of an elusive snake (Sistrurus catenatus)
Many rare and elusive species have low detection probabilities, thereby imposing unique challenges to monitoring and conservation. Here, we assess the detection probability of the Eastern Massasauga (Sistrurus catenatus) in contrast to a more common and conspicuous species, the Eastern Gartersnake (Thamnophis sirtalis). We found that patterns of detection probability differed between species, wherein S. catenatus was detected less often and under a more specific set of sampling conditions. Correspondingly, detection trials with S. catenatus found a high non-detection rate, while detection trials with artificial models suggest that regional differences in detection probability are driven by variation in population density and habitat use. Our results suggest that current monitoring efforts are not sufficient, and that S. catenatus is frequently undetected. Accordingly, we highlight the importance of species-specific monitoring protocols when monitoring rare and elusive species, and recommend a multi-faceted approach that estimates detection probability and identifies species-specific challenges to monitoring. Author Keywords: detection probability, elusive species, monitoring programs, non-detection, S. catenatus, snakes
Syrphidae (Diptera) of northern Ontario and Akimiski Island, Nunavut
Syrphids, also known as hover flies (Diptera: Syrphidae) are a diverse and widespread family of flies. Here, I report on their distributions from a previously understudied region, the far north of Ontario, as well as Akimiski Island, Nunavut. I used samples collected through a variety of projects to update known range and provincial records for over a hundred species, bringing into clearer focus the distribution of syrphids throughout this region. I also analysed a previously un-tested trap type for collecting syrphids (Nzi trap), and report on results of DNA analysis for a handful of individuals, which yielded a potential new species. Author Keywords: Diptera, Ontario, range extension, Syrphidae
Temporo-spatial patterns of occupation and density by an invasive fish in streams
Since its introduction to North America in the 1990s, the Round Goby has spread throughout the Great Lakes, inland through rivers and is now moving into small tributary streams, a new environment for this species in both its native and invaded ranges. I explored density and temporal occupation of Round Gobies in four small streams in two systems in south-central Ontario, Canada in order to determine what habitat variables are the best predictors of goby density. Two streams are tributaries of Lake Ontario and two are tributaries of the Otonabee River, and all of these streams have barriers preventing upstream migration. I found that occupation and density differed between the systems. In the Otonabee River system, Round Gobies occupy the streams year round and the most important factor determining adult density is distance from a barrier to upstream movement, with the entire stream occupied but density highest next to the barriers. In the Lake Ontario system, density is highest at mid-stream and Round Gobies appear to occupy these streams mainly from spring to fall. Adult density in Lake Ontario tributaries is highest in sites with a high percentage of cobble/boulder and low percentage of gravel substrate, while substrate is less important in Otonabee River tributaries. Occupation and density patterns may differ due to contrasting environmental conditions in the source environments and distance to the first barrier preventing upstream movement. This study shows diversity in invasion strategies, and provides insight into the occurrence and movement patterns of this species in small, tributary streams. Author Keywords: biological invasion, Generalised Additive Mixed Model, habitat, Neogobius melanostomus, Round Goby, stream
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)
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
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
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:
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
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
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
Stoichiometric food quality affects responses of Daphnia to predator-derived chemical cues
While both resource quality and predator-derived chemical cues can each have profound effects on zooplankton populations and their function in ecosystems, the strength and nature of their interactive effects remain unclear. We conducted laboratory experiments to evaluate how stoichiometric food quality (i.e., algal carbon (C):phosphorus (P) ratios) affects responses of the water flea, Daphnia pulicaria, to predator-derived chemical cues. We compared growth rates, body elemental content, metabolic rates, life history shifts, and survival of differentially P-nourished Daphnia in the presence and absence of chemical cues derived from fish predators. We found effects of predator cues and/or stoichiometric food quality on all measured traits of Daphnia. Exposure to fish cues led to reduced growth and increased metabolic rates, but had little effect on the elemental content of Daphnia. Elevated algal C:P ratios reduced growth and body %P, increased respiration, and increased body %C. Most of the effects of predator cues and algal C:P ratios of Daphnia were non-interactive. In contrast, the declines in daphnid survival and related population growth rates that arose because of poor food quality were amplified in the presence of predator-derived cues. Our results demonstrate that stoichiometric food quality interacts with anti-predator responses of Daphnia, but these effects are trait-dependent and appear connected to animal life-history evolution. Author Keywords: Daphnia, ecological stoichiometry, indirect predator effects, life history, phosphorus, predator-prey relationships
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


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