Graduate Theses & Dissertations

Conservation Genetics of Woodland Caribou in the Central Boreal Forest of Canada
Maintaining functional connectivity among wildlife populations is important to ensure genetic diversity and evolutionary potential of declining populations, particularly when managing species at risk. The Boreal Designatable Unit (DU) of woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) in Ontario, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan has declined in southern portions of the range because of increased human activities and has been identified as 'threatened' by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). In this dissertation, I used ten microsatellite DNA markers primarily from winter-collected fecal samples to delineate genetic structure of boreal caribou in declining portions of the range and increase understanding of the potential influence of the non-threatened Eastern Migratory DU of woodland caribou on genetic differentiation. Eastern migratory caribou are characterized by large home ranges compared to boreal caribou and migrate seasonally into portions of the Boreal DU range. A regional- and local-scale analysis using the spatial Bayesian clustering algorithm in program TESS delineated four regional clusters and 11 local clusters, with the majority of local clusters occurring along the southern periphery of the range. One of those clusters in Ontario corresponded spatially with the seasonal overlap of boreal and eastern migratory caribou and was characterized by substantial admixture, suggesting that the two DUs could be interbreeding. Next, I decoupled the impacts of historical and contemporary processes on genetic structure and found that historical processes were an important factor contributing to genetic differentiation, which may be a result of historical patterns of isolation by distance or different ancestry. Moreover, I found evidence of introgression from a currently unsampled population in northern Ontario, presumably barren-ground caribou (R. t. groenlandicus). Finally, because our analysis suggested recent processes were also responsible for genetic structure, I used a landscape genetics analysis to identify factors affecting contemporary genetic structure. Water bodies, anthropogenic disturbance, and mobility differences between the two DUs were important factors describing caribou genetic differentiation. This study provides insights on where conservation and management of caribou herds should be prioritized in threatened portions of the boreal caribou range and may have implications for future delineation of evolutionarily significant units. Author Keywords: boreal forest, genetic structure, landscape genetics, microsatellite DNA, Rangifer tarandus, woodland caribou
Human Activity and Habitat Characteristics Influence Shorebird Habitat Use and Behaviour at a Vancouver Island Migratory Stopover Site
Pacific Rim National Park Reserve's 16 km of coastal beaches attract many thousands of people and shorebirds every year. To identify locations where shorebirds concentrate and determine the impact of human activity and habitat characteristics on shorebirds, I conducted shorebird and visitor surveys at 20 beach sectors during fall migration in 2011 to 2013 and spring migration in 2012 and 2013. The probability of shorebird presence decreased with increasing number of people at a beach sector. The time that shorebirds spent at a sector increased with increasing sector width. Close proximity to people increased the proportion of time shorebirds spent moving while shorebirds spent more time moving and less time foraging on wider beaches than on narrower ones. My findings suggest that placing restrictions on beach access and fast moving activities (e.g., running) may be necessary to reduce shorebird disturbance at Pacific Rim and similar stopover areas. Author Keywords: habitat use, human disturbance, predation risk, prey availability, shorebird, stopover
Evaluating the Effects of Habitat Loss and Fragmentation on Canada Lynx
Current major issues in conservation biology include habitat loss, fragmentation and population over-exploitation. Animals can respond to landscape change through behavioural flexibility, allowing individuals to persist in disturbed landscapes. Individual behaviour has only recently been explicitly included in population models. Carnivores may be sensitive to changing landscapes due to their wide-ranging behaviour, low densities and reproductive rates. Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis) is a primary predator of snowshoe hares (Lepus americanus). Both species range throughout the boreal forests of North America, however lynx are declining in the southern range periphery. In this dissertation, I developed new insights into the effects of habitat loss and fragmentation on lynx. In Chapter 2, I created a habitat suitability model for lynx in Ontario and examined occurrence patterns across 2 regions to determine if habitat selection is flexible when different amounts of habitat are available. Although lynx avoided areas with <30% suitable habitat where suitable land cover is abundant, I found that they have flexible habitat selection patterns where suitable land cover is rare and occurred in low habitat areas. In Chapter 3, I investigated the effects of dispersal plasticity on occupancy patterns using a spatially explicit individual-based model. I showed that flexible dispersers, capable of crossing inhospitable matrix, had higher densities and a lower risk of patch extinction. In contrast, inflexible dispersers (unable to cross inhospitable matrix), were most limited by landscape connectivity, resulting in a high extinction risk in isolated patches. I developed three predictions to be explored with empirical data; (1) dispersal plasticity affects estimates of functional connectivity; (2) variation in dispersal behaviour increases the resilience of patchy populations; and (3) dispersal behaviour promotes non-random distribution of phenotypes. Finally, in Chapter 4, I examined the consequences of anthropogenic harvest on naturally cycling populations. I found that harvest mortality can exacerbate the effects of habitat fragmentation, especially when lynx densities are low. Dynamic harvest regimes maintained lynx densities and cycle dynamics while reducing the risk of population extinction. These results suggest that lynx display some flexibility to changing landscapes and that the metapopulation structure is more resilient to increasing habitat loss and fragmentation than previously understood. Future studies should focus on determining a threshold of connectivity necessary for population persistence and examining the effects of habitat loss on the fecundity of lynx. Author Keywords: Fluctuating Populations, Habitat Fragmentation, Landscape Ecology, Occupancy Dynamics, Population Ecology, Spatially Explicit Population Models

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2011 - 2021
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