Graduate Theses & Dissertations


Effects of Invasive Wetland Macrophytes on Habitat Selection by Turtles
Invasive species that alter habitats can have significant impacts on wildlife. The invasive graminoids Phragmites australis (Cav.) Trin. ex Steud, hereafter Phragmites, and Typha × glauca Godr. are rapidly spreading into North American wetlands, replacing native vegetation. Invasive Phragmites is considered a potential threat to several species-at-risk (SAR), including some turtle species. My study wetland contained large stands of Phragmites, as well as Typha spp. (including invasive T. × glauca) that have similar structural traits to Phragmites. To explore the hypothesis that Phragmites and Typha spp. do not provide suitable habitat for turtles, I tested the prediction that turtles avoid Phragmites- and Typha-dominated habitats. I used VHF-GPS transmitters to follow Blanding’s turtles (Emydoidea blandingii, n = 14) and spotted turtles (Clemmys guttata, n = 12). I found that both turtle species did not avoid Phragmites- or Typha-dominated habitats when choosing a home range, or while moving within their home range. I also tested whether the microhabitat selection of Blanding’s turtles and spotted turtles is affected by shoot density of Phragmites, Typha spp., or both. I compared shoot densities of Phragmites and Typha spp. in 4 m2 plots, from locations used by tracked turtles with paired, random locations in these turtles’ home ranges. For both turtle species, the densities of Phragmites and Typha shoots were comparable between used and random locations within the home ranges (generalized linear mixed model; p > 0.05). The use of Phragmites- and Typha-dominated habitats by Blanding’s turtles and spotted turtles suggests that these habitats do not automatically constitute “unsuitable habitats” for turtles. Phragmites and Typha spp. (especially T. × glauca) can replace preferred habitats of some turtle species, and the control of these invasive macrophytes can help to preserve habitat heterogeneity. However, the presence of SAR turtles in Phragmites and Typha spp. stands should inform risk-assessments for invasive plant species control methods that include mechanical rolling of stands, where heavy machinery might encounter turtles. Author Keywords: Blanding’s turtles, compositional analysis, habitat selection, Phragmites australis, spotted turtles, Typha x glauca
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
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
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
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
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
Testing for Interspecific Hybridization and a Latitudinal Cline Within the Clock Gene Per1 of the Deer Mouse (Peromyscus maniculatus) and the White-Footed Mouse (Peromyscus leucopus)
The recent northward expansion of the white-footed mouse (Peromyscus leucopus) in response to climatic changes provides a natural experiment to explore potential adaptive genetic variation within the clock gene Per1 in Peromyscus undergoing latitudinal shifts, as well as, the possibility of hybridization and introgression related to novel secondary contact with its sister species the deer mouse (Peromyscus maniculatus). Because clock genes influence the timing of behaviors critical for survival, variations in genotype may reflect an organism’s ability to persist in different environments. Hybridization followed by introgression may increase the adaptive potential of a species by quickly generating adaptive variation through novel genetic recombination or by the transfer of species-specific alleles that have evolved in response to certain environments. In chapter 2, I used microsatellite and mtDNA markers to test for hybridization and introgression between P. maniculatus and P. leucopus and found that interbreeding is occurring at a low frequency (<1%). In chapter 3, I tested for a latitudinal cline in a polyglycine repeat located within the Per1 gene of Peromyscus and discovered a putative cline in the Per1-142 and Per1-157 allele of P. leucopus and P. maniculatus, respectively. Chapter 4, further expands upon these findings, limitations, and the lack of evidence supporting introgression at the Per1 locus. Despite this lack of evidence, it is possible that novel hybridization has or could lead to adaptive introgression of other genes, allowing for the exchange of adaptive alleles or traits that could be advantageous for range expansion and adaption to future environmental changes. Author Keywords: Clock genes, Hybridization, Latitudinal gradient, Per1, Peromyscus, Range Expansion


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