Graduate Theses & Dissertations

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Sex-Specific Graphs
Sex-specific genetic structure is a commonly observed pattern among vertebrate species. Facing differential selective pressures, individuals may adopt sex-specific life historical traits that ultimately shape genetic variation among populations. Although differential dispersal dynamics are commonly detected in the literature, few studies have investigated the potential effect of sex-specific functional connectivity on genetic structure. The recent uses of Graph Theory in landscape genetics have demonstrated network capacities to describe complex system behaviors where network topology intuitively represents genetic interaction among sub-units. By implementing a sex-specific network approach, our results suggest that Sex-Specific Graphs (SSG) are sensitive to differential male and female dispersal dynamics of a fisher (Martes pennanti) metapopulation in southern Ontario. Our analyses based on SSG topologies supported the hypothesis of male-biased dispersal. Furthermore, we demonstrated that the effect of the landscape, identified at the population-level, could be partitioned among sex-specific strata. We found that female connectivity was negatively affected by snow depth, while being neutral for males. Our findings underlined the potential of conducting sex-specific analysis by identifying landscape elements that promotes or impedes functional connectivity of wildlife populations, which sometimes remains cryptic when studied at the population level. We propose that SSG approach would be applicable to other vagile species where differential sex-specific processes are expected to occur. Author Keywords: genetic structure, Landscape Genetics, Martes pennanti, Population Graph, sex-biased dispersal, Sex-Specific Graphs
Detectability and its role in understanding upland sandpiper (Bartramia longicauda) occurence in the fragmented landscape of southern Ontario
Upland Sandpipers (Bartramia longicauda), like many grassland birds, are undergoing population decline in parts of their range. Habitat fragmentation and change have been hypothesized as potential causes of decline. I used citizen-science occurrence data from Wildlife Preservation Canada’s Adopt-A-Shrike Loggerhead Shrike (Lanius ludovicianus) program in conjunction with validation surveys, using similar point-count methods, to examine detectability and determine if landscape level habitat features could predict occupancy of Upland Sandpipers in Southern Ontario. In a single season detectability study, I used Wildlife Preservation Canada’s survey protocol to determine detectability in sites that were known to be occupied. Detectability was low, with six surveys necessary to ensure detection using a duration of at least 18 minutes early in the breeding season. The proportion of open habitat did not affect detection on the landscape. Using a larger spatial and temporal scale, with five years of citizen-science data, I showed that Annual Crop Inventory data could not effectively predict Upland Sandpiper occupancy. Model uncertainty could be attributed to survey protocol and life history traits of the Upland Sandpiper, suggesting that appropriate survey methods be derived a priori for maximizing the potential of citizen-science data for robust analyses. Author Keywords: Bartramia longicauda, citizen-science, detection, landscape, occupancy, Ontario
Stress Axis Function and Regulation in New World Flying Squirrels
Across vertebrate taxa, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (or the stress axis) is highly conserved, and is central to vertebrate survival because it allows appropriate responses to psychological stressors. Habitat shapes successful physiological and ecological strategies, and to appreciate how individual species respond to stressors in their environment, it is essential to have a thorough knowledge of the basic stress physiology of each species. In this dissertation, I studied the functioning and evolution of the stress physiology of New World flying squirrels. I showed that baseline, circulating cortisol levels in northern (Glaucomys sabrinus) and southern (G. volans) flying squirrels are some of the highest ever reported for mammals, indicating that their stress axes operate at a higher set point than most other species. I also assessed other aspects of their acute stress response, including free fatty acid and blood glucose levels, and indices of immune function, and showed that the flying squirrels’ physiological reaction to stressors may differ from that of other mammals. Using immunoblotting, I found that corticosteroid-binding globulin (CBG) expression levels in flying squirrels appeared to be higher than previously reported using alternative methods. I also concluded however, that these levels did not appear to be high enough to provide their tissues with the protective CBG-bound buffer from their high circulating cortisol concentrations experienced by the majority of vertebrates. Thus, this arm of cortisol regulation within the flying squirrel stress axes may be weak or non-existent. Following this, I focused on southern flying squirrels and showed evidence that the second arm of cortisol regulation — the negative feedback mechanism at the level of the brain — functions effectively, but that this species is glucocorticoid resistant. Their tissue receptors appear to have a reduced affinity for cortisol, and this affinity may change seasonally to allow for the onset of other biological processes required for survival and reproduction. Due to their distinctive stress physiology, northern and southern flying squirrels may provide comparative physiologists with model systems for further probing of the function and evolution of the stress axis among vertebrates. Author Keywords: corticosteroid-binding globulin, flying squirrel, Glaucomys, glucocorticoids, physiological ecology, stress physiology
Disease ecology of ophidiomycosis in free-ranging snakes
Ophidiomycosis (snake fungal disease) is caused by the pathogen Ophidiomyces ophiodiicola. Infected snakes exhibit dermal lesions, occasional systemic infections, and, in some cases, mortality. We studied snakes at Rondeau Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada, to explore whether ophidiomycosis develops during brumation or year-round. Throughout their active season, we quantified the prevalence of clinical signs of the disease on snakes and conducted qPCR of skin swabs to determine the prevalence of O. ophiodiicola on snakes. Prevalence of O. ophiodiicola and disease symptoms were highest on eastern foxsnakes (Pantherophis vulpinus) and very rare on other snake species. In P. vulpinus, pathogen and clinical sign prevalence was highest, directly after emergence from overwintering, with the majority of P. vulpinus being able to resolve clinical signs of ophidiomycosis by the return of winter. When we analyzed the survivorship of P. vulpinus we determined that the likelihood of a snake dying with ophidiomycosis is similar to a snake dying without ophidiomycosis. Given that P. vulpinus were the most affected species at our study site, ophidiomycosis does not appear to pose an imminent threat to our study population of P. vulpinus under current conditions. Author Keywords: Eastern Foxsnake, Fitness, Ophidiomycosis, Pantherophis vulpinus, Seasonal trends, Snake fungal disease
Incidental Take and Population Dynamics of Nesting Birds in a Red Pine (Pinus resinosa) Plantation Under Single-Tree Selection Harvesting
I determined the direct influence of single-tree selection harvesting on the daily nest survival rates and nest success of 5 focal bird species within a monotypic red pine (Pinus resinosa) plantation on the western edge of the Oak Ridges Moraine in southern Ontario, Canada. I located and monitored 290 nests during the 2012 and 2013 breeding season. I used the logistic-exposure method to evaluate the daily nest survival rates of American Robin (Turdus migratorius), Eastern Wood-pewee (Contopus virens), Ovenbird (Seiurus aurocapilla), Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus), and Red-eyed Vireo (Vireo olivaceus). Only five nests were destroyed as a result of forestry activity over the study period. Neither daily nest survival rates nor nest success of these focal species were substantially affected by single-tree selection harvesting. I also monitored the impact of single-tree selection harvesting on the density and territory size of 4 of 5 focal species. Ovenbird had a significantly smaller territory size but decreased density in the harvested areas. Although not significant, Eastern Wood-pewee and Red-eyed Vireo tended to have higher densities and larger territory sizes in harvested areas, whereas Rose-breasted Grosbeak showed a mixed effect as density was higher while territory size was smaller. Single-tree selection produces minor to moderate disturbance that takes place locally over a short period of time. As a result, nests that are indirectly disturbed by nearby harvesting, felling trees and mechanical operations and are not destroyed remain and adults do not appear to abandon eggs or young from the disturbance. Habitat alteration from harvesting of the general forest structure and especially the forest floor must be minimized in order to conserve forest bird species diversity. Further research examining incidental take using various intensities of single-tree selection harvesting would provide important insight into maintaining avian and forest diversity by means of forest management. Author Keywords: daily nest survival rates, forest management, Incidental Take, nest success, red pine monotypic forest, single-tree selection harvesting
Genetic diversity and differentiation of Ontario’s recolonizing fishers (Pekania pennanti)
Fishers (Pekania pennanti) were extirpated from many parts of Ontario in the early 20th century, but as of the early 2000s the species had recolonized most of its historical range. While the primary population genetic structure of fishers in central and eastern Ontario has not changed drastically over the past ten years, we did find evidence of increased secondary structure and a reduction in northward movement from southeastern Ontario, a site of recent immigration from the Adirondacks in northern New York. This may be indicative of a reduction in density and thus in density-dependent migration, or it may be a consequence of the population reaching equilibrium following a period of rapid expansion associated with recolonization. We also observed no variation within central and eastern Ontario at 14 of 15 candidate functional loci we screened, suggesting possible directional or stabilizing selection and a lack of adaptive potential. Author Keywords: fisher, functional genes, Ontario, Pekania pennanti, population genetics, recolonization
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
Evaluating the effects of landscape structure on genetic differentiation and diversity
The structure and composition of the landscape can facilitate or impede gene flow, which can have important consequences because genetically isolated groups of individuals may be prone to inbreeding depression and possible extinction. My dissertation examines how landscape structure influences spatial patterns of genetic differentiation and diversity of American marten (Martes americana) and Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis) in Ontario, Canada, and provides methodological advances useful for landscape geneticists. First, I identified the effects of map boundaries on estimates of landscape resistance, and proposed a solution to the bias: a buffer around the map boundary. Second, I assessed the sensitivity of a network-based estimate of genetic distance, conditional genetic distance, to incomplete sampling. I then used these landscape genetic tools in a pairwise, distance-based analysis of 653 martens genotyped at 12 microsatellite loci. I evaluated whether forest management in Ontario has influenced the genetic structure of martens. Although forest management practices had some impact, isolation by distance best described marten gene flow. Our results suggest that managed forests in Ontario are well connected for marten and do not impede marten gene flow. Finally, I used a site-based analysis of 702 lynx genotyped at 14 microsatellite loci to investigate spatial patterns of genetic diversity and differentiation at the trailing (contracting) edge of the lynx distribution in Ontario. I analyzed harvest records and found that the southern edge of lynx range has contracted by >175 km since the 1970s. I also found that neutral genetic diversity decreased towards the trailing edge, whereas genetic differentiation increased. Furthermore, I found strong correlations between gradients of lynx genetic structure and gradients of climate and land cover in Ontario. My findings suggest that increases in winter air temperature, decreases in snow depth, and loss of suitable habitat will result in further loss of genetic diversity in peripheral populations of lynx. Consequently, the adaptive potential of lynx populations on the southern range periphery could decline. In conclusion, my dissertation demonstrates the varying influences that contemporary landscape structure and climate gradients can have on genetic diversity and differentiation of different species. Author Keywords: Circuitscape, genetic network, landscape genetics, Lynx canadensis, Martes americana, range shift
Selection on functional genes across a flying squirrel (genus Glaucomys) hybrid zone
While hybridization between distinct taxa can have undesirable implications, it can also result in increased genetic variability and potentially, the exchange of adaptive genes or traits. Adaptive variation acquired through introgressive hybridization may be particularly advantageous for species facing rapid environmental change. I investigated a novel, climate change-induced hybrid zone between two flying squirrel species: the southern (Glaucomys volans) and northern (G. sabrinus) flying squirrel. I was interested in the occurrence of hybridization and introgression, the type of selective pressures maintaining the hybrid zone and the potential for adaptive introgression. I found relatively low hybridization and introgression frequencies (1.7% and 2.9% of the population, respectively) and no evidence of selection on hybrids or backcrosses in particular environments. I conclude that the data are more consistent with a hybrid zone maintained by endogenous (environment-independent) selection. I tested for adaptive introgression using two functional genes: IGF-1 and CLOCK. I documented intermediate functional allele frequencies in backcrosses compared to parental populations, suggesting the alleles do not confer fitness advantages in backcrosses. Despite lack of evidence for current adaptive introgression, genetic admixture between G. volans and G. sabrinus may provide adaptive potential should these species face more rapid or drastic environmental change in the future. Author Keywords: adaptive introgression, flying squirrel, Glaucomys sabrinus, Glaucomys volans, hybridization, introgression
USE OF SALIVARY CORTISOL TO EVALUATE THE INFLUENCE OF RIDES ON THE STRESS PHYSIOLOGY OF DROMEDARY CAMELS (CAMELUS DROMEDARIUS)
Many facilities attempt to alleviate the risk of chronic stress in captivity by providing environmental enrichment shown to minimize behavioural disorders and stress in several species. One potential form of enrichment used in zoos is training animals to perform rides for guests, however, the effect of this activity on the welfare of individual animals has never been examined. I validated the use of saliva for assessing stress in dromedary camels (Camelus dromedarius) an animal commonly used for rides. I then measured variation in salivary cortisol in four male camels during animal rides for guests at the Toronto Zoo. The camels were sampled during the ride season (from June to August) using four treatments: 1) in their pasture, 2) at the ride area not performing rides, 3) performing a low number of rides (n=50/day) and 4) performing a high number of rides (n=150/day). Furthermore, samples were taken before and after the ride season for comparison. There was a significant difference between the post-ride season treatment and the three treatments involving guest presence during the ride season (ride area, low rides, high rides. This indicates that performing rides is not a stressful experience based on the stress metrics I used, and suggests that rides may be a form of enrichment for dromedary camels. Author Keywords: ACTH challenge, animal welfare, camels, environmental enrichment, salivary cortisol, stress
Range dynamics of two closely related felids
Species ranges are changing and the rate at which the climate is warming is faster than anything previously seen in the past, consequently species will need to adapt quickly, track the climate or perish. Cold adapted terrestrial species are the most vulnerable, because they are limited by the availability of land at the cold edge of their range. This means that many alpine, boreal and polar species essentially have nowhere to go as the climate warms. Habitat generalists are widely distributed across the globe and are highly adaptable to anthropogenic change. Our future biodiversity may only consist of several habitat generalists. The Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis) is a boreal species that has limited range expansion potential at the cold end of its range and its range has already contracted by 40%. The lynx has nowhere to go as climate warming progresses in this current century. Therefore, understanding the causes of its range contraction could enlighten us on conservation and management strategies that we might undertake as climate warms. My analyses indicated that the Canada lynx seems to have tracked the habitat that it is adapted to in more northern homogenous boreal forests and the bobcat (Lynx rufus), a habitat generalist, has simply replaced it in the south. Author Keywords: Anthropogenic Change, Competition, Connectivity, Lynx canadensis, Lynx rufus, Range change
Habitat selection by sympatric Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis) and bobcat (Lynx rufus)
Range expansion by the bobcat (Lynx rufus) may be contributing to range contraction by the Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis), but interactions between them are not well understood. To investigate the potential for competition, I conducted a literature review of hierarchical habitat selection by these two species. I determined that the lynx and the bobcat select different resources at the first and second orders, and that the fourth order is under-studied compared to higher orders. I therefore conducted a snow-tracking study of fine-scale habitat selection by lynx and bobcat in an area of sympatry in northern Ontario. I found that the two species selected similar resources at the fourth order, but appeared to be allopatric at the level of the home range. These results suggest that competition is unlikely to occur between lynx and bobcat, and other factors should be considered as more probable causes of the lynx range contraction. Author Keywords: Bobcat, Canada lynx, Competition, Habitat selection, Scale, Snow tracking

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