Graduate Theses & Dissertations

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Making eDNA count
Environmental DNA (eDNA) is rapidly becoming an established method for the detection of species in aquatic systems and has been suggested as a promising tool to estimate species abundance. However, the strength of the relationship between eDNA concentrations and taxon abundance (density/biomass) can vary widely between species. I investigated the relationship between eDNA concentration and species abundance using two common and closely-related amphibians in eastern North America, the wood frog (Rana sylvatica) and northern leopard frog (Rana pipiens). I manipulated tadpole density in 80 L mesocosms and documented the relationship between tadpole density, biomass, and eDNA concentration. Species were comparable in biomass but differed in the amount of detectible genetic material produced; density and biomass were the superior abundance metric correlated with eDNA concentration for wood frogs and leopard frogs, respectively. However, increases in eDNA concentration reflected increasing tadpole biomass, therefore biomass is likely a better metric of abundance than density. Overall my findings support that eDNA concentration can be used as an index of species abundance, but that species-specific calibration may be needed before eDNA concentration can be effectively translated to an abundance metric. Future research should refine our understanding of how biotic and abiotic factors influence eDNA production, degradation, and recovery across species, before the method can receive widespread use as a monitoring tool in natural settings. Author Keywords: abundance estimates, environmental DNA, mesocosm, Rana pipiens, Rana sylvatica
Research and development of synthetic materials for presumptive testing in bloodstain pattern analysis
Chemical presumptive tests are used as the primary detection method for latent bloodstain evidence. This work focuses on developing a forensic blood substitute which mimics whole blood reactivity to a luminol solution commonly used in presumptive testing. Designing safe and accessible materials that mimic relevant properties of blood is a recognized research need in forensic science. Understanding the whole blood dynamics related to reactivity with presumptive testing chemicals is important for developing accurate analogues. Provided in this thesis is a quantitative and qualitative characterization of photoemission from the reaction of a luminol solution to ovine blood. Luminol reactivity of a horseradish peroxidase encapsulated sol-gel polymer was validated against this ovine blood standard. This material, the luminol-reactive forensic blood substitute, is a key deliverable of this research. An optimized protocol for implementing this technology as a reagent control test, and as a secondary school chemistry experiment are presented. This thesis outlines the research and development of a forensic blood substitute as it relates to presumptive testing in bloodstain pattern analysis. Author Keywords: bloodstain pattern analysis, forensic science, luminol, presumptive testing, secondary school education, sol-gel chemistry
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
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
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
Ground-truthing effective population size estimators using long-term population data from inland salmonid populations
Effective population size (Ne) is a foundational concept in conservation biology, in part due to its relationship to the adaptive potential of populations. Although Ne is often estimated for wild populations, it is rarely calibrated against actual population estimates (Nc) other than to produce Ne/Nc ratios. This project used demographic and genetic data for from two intensively-studied populations of lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush) in Ontario’s Experimental Lake Area (ELA) as baseline data for evaluating the performance of multiple Ne estimators. Several temporal and single-time (point) genetic methods of estimating Ne were compared against demographic Ne estimates and known population data, as well as variation and consistency within and among Ne estimators. Changes in genetic Ne estimates over time were also compared to changes in demographic structure and fluctuating census estimates, including the effect of an experimentally manipulated population bottleneck on demographic and genetic Ne estimates during population reduction and recovery. Sampling years that included the most pre-, during and post-bottleneck data revealed the lowest estimates using temporal estimators (Ne = 16 to 18) despite pre- and post-bottleneck census estimates of 591 and 565. Estimation of Ne had increasingly tighter confidence intervals as sample sizes approached the actual number of breeding individuals in each population. Performance differences among the tested estimators highlight their potential biases and reliance on different assumptions, illustrating their potential value and caveats for assessing adaptive potential of wild populations. Author Keywords: Effective Population Size, Experimental Lakes Area, Fish Population Assessment, Lake Trout, Population Demographics, Population Genetics
Social discrimination by female polar bears (Ursus maritimus) when accompanied by dependent offspring during the ice-free season in southern and western Hudson Bay and James Bay
Polar bears are generally described as solitary, but features of their life cycles and habitats regularly necessitate interaction. Effective conspecific assessment, including accurate recognition and discrimination, likely confers benefits, especially to females accompanied by dependent young. Individuals in the Southern (SH) and Western (WH) Hudson Bay subpopulations are ideal for studying polar bear social behaviours because of the prolonged high densities of the ice-free season. First, I looked outside family groups to model their fine scale sociospatial organization on land. Capture locations were more likely to correspond to family groups when there were fewer neighbouring bears, when a greater proportion of neighbours were female, and when the focal individual and neighbours were significantly related. Second, I looked within the family group to assess offspring recognition. Of 288 offspring in 207 family groups captured in the SH subpopulation from 1999 through 2013, only one case of adoption (of a singleton) was observed. Author Keywords: Adoption, Kin Recognition, Logistic Regression, Maternity Analysis, Social Discrimination, Sociospatial
Temperature effects on the routine metabolic rates of brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) eggs, alevin and fry
Early developmental stages of cold-adapted ectotherms such as brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) are at risk of mortality with increasing water temperatures because of their sensitivity to changes in their environment. I studied the mass and routine metabolic rate (RMR) of wild-origin brook trout eggs, alevin and young fry reared at normal (5°C) and elevated (9°C) temperatures for the duration of the study or at mismatched temperatures. This setup determined if preconditioning acclimation for one temperature benefits or hinders the organism later in life. Three levels of biological organization (ancestry, population, family) were studied using Akaike’s Information Criterion (AIC) to identify models that best accounted for variation in the data. Family, mass and temperature were most important in predicting body mass and mass-adjusted RMR, although population and ancestral-level differences were also detected at some life stages. Strong variation in body mass and mass-adjusted RMR among families may indicate adaptive potential within brook trout populations to respond to increases in water temperature with climate change. Author Keywords: Acclimation, AIC, Brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis), Environmental matching, Routine metabolic rate, Temperature
Habitat Preferences and Feeding Ecology of Blackfin Cisco (Coregonus nigripinnis) in Northern Algonquin Provincial Park
Blackfin Cisco (Coregonus nigripinnis), a deepwater cisco species once endemic to the Laurentian Great Lakes, was discovered in Algonquin Provincial Park in four lakes situated within a drainage outflow of glacial Lake Algonquin. Blackfin habitat preference was examined by analyzing which covariates best described their depth distribution using hurdle models in a multi-model approach. Although depth best described their distribution, the nearly isothermal hypolimnion in which Blackfin reside indicated a preference for cold-water habitat. Feeding structure differentiation separated Blackfin from other coregonines, with Blackfin possessing the most numerous (50-66) gill rakers, and, via allometric regression, the longest gill rakers and lower gill arches. Selection for feeding efficiency may be a result of Mysis diluviana affecting planktonic size structure in lakes containing Blackfin Cisco, an effect also discovered in Lake Whitefish (Coregonus clupeaformis). This thesis provides insight into the habitat preferences and feeding ecology of Blackfin and provides a basis for future study. Author Keywords: allometric regression, blackfin cisco, habitat, hurdle models, lake whitefish, mysis
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
Functional Genetic Diversity in American Mink (Neovison vison)
The release of domestic organisms to the wild is considered a threat to biodiversity because the introduction of domestic genes through interbreeding can negatively impact wild conspecifics via outbreeding and local extinction. In North America, captive American mink (Neovison vison) are frequently escaping into the wild, yet the impact of these events on the functional genetic diversity of wild mink populations is unclear. I characterized domestic and wild mink in Ontario at 17 trinucleotide microsatellites located in functional genes thought to be associated with traits affected by domestication. I found low functional genetic diversity, as only 4 of 17 genes were variable and of those four there was little evidence of allele frequency differences between domestic and wild mink. Using redundancy analysis and a spatial analysis of principal components on the four variable loci (AR, ATN1, IGF-1, and TOB1) I found no evidence to suggest domestic release events are affecting functional genetic diversity of free-ranging mink at the set of markers assessed. Author Keywords: American mink, domestication, functional gene, introgression, Neovison vison
Evaluating Environmental DNA (eDNA) Detection of Invasive Water Soldier (Stratiotes Aloides)
In 2008, the first North American water soldier (Stratiotes aloides) population was discovered in the Trent River, Ontario. Water soldier is an invasive aquatic plant with sharp, serrated leaves that has the potential to spread rapidly through dispersed vegetative fragments. Although it is too late to prevent water soldier establishment in the Trent River, its local distribution remains limited. In this study, environmental DNA (eDNA) was explored as a potential tool for early detection of water soldier. Species-specific markers were designed from chloroplast DNA regions matK and rbcL, and a qPCR assay with rbcL primers yielded the most sensitive detection of water soldier eDNA. Positive detections were obtained from six of 40 sampling locations, of which five were collected in Seymour Lake, an area with large patches of water soldier. As water soldier plants were known to be present at these sites, high eDNA concentrations were expected. The sixth positive detection from Trent Lock 5 (50 km downstream of Lake Seymour) was unexpected as it was obtained at a site with no water soldier sightings. This is one of the first studies to demonstrate the effectiveness of eDNA detection from aquatic plants. Author Keywords: aquatic plant, eDNA, environmental DNA, invasive species, Stratiotes aloides, water soldier

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