Graduate Theses & Dissertations


Soil Geochemistry and Normative Mineralogy across Canada
Soils play a crucial role in ecosystem functioning, for example, soil minerals provide important provisioning and regulate ecosystem services. This study used major soil oxides from the North American Soil Geochemical Landscapes Project (n=560) to assess elemental associations and infer soil minerals through exploratory data analysis and to determined quantitative soil mineralogy using a normative method, Analysis to Mineralogy (n=1170). Results showed elemental variability of oxides across the provinces of Canada and strong correlations occurred between elements indicative of soil mineral composition (e.g., Silicon and Aluminium). Principal component analysis inferred soil minerals from soil oxides trends on biplots and classified minerals, generally, as carbonates, silicates, and weathered secondary oxides. Spatial variability in minerals (quartz, plagioclase, potassium feldspar, chlorite, and muscovite) was related to the underlying bedrock geology. The use of Analysis to Mineralogy led to a reliable method of quantifying soil minerals at a large scale. Author Keywords: Analysis to Mineralogy, Exploratory data analysis, Normative procedures, North American Soil Geochemical Landscapes Project, Soil geochemistry, Soil mineralogy
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
Aeolian Impact Ripples in Sand Beds of Varied Texture
A wind tunnel study was conducted to investigate aeolian impact ripples in sand beds of varied texture from coarsely skewed to bimodal. Experimental data is lacking for aeolian megaripples, particularly in considering the influence of wind speed on ripple morphometrics. Additionally, the modelling community requires experimental data for model validation and calibration. Eighteen combinations of wind speed and proportion of coarse mode particles by mass were analysed for both morphometrics and optical indices of spatial segregation. Wind tunnel conditions emulated those found at aeolian megaripple field sites, specifically a unimodal wind regime and particle transport mode segregation. Remote sensing style image classification was applied to investigate the spatial segregation of the two differently coloured size populations. Ripple morphometrics show strong dependency on wind speed. Conversely, morphometric indices are inversely correlated to the proportion of the distribution that was comprised of coarse mode particles. Spatial segregation is highly correlated to wind speed in a positive manner and negatively correlated to the proportion of the distribution that was comprised of coarse mode particles. Results reveal that the degree of spatial segregation within an impact ripple bedform can be higher than previously reported in the literature. Author Keywords: Aeolian, Impact Ripples, Megaripple, Self-organization, Wind Tunnel
Observation-based assessment of atmospheric sulphur surrounding a major aluminum smelter in British Columbia, Canada
Recent developments at an aluminum (Al) smelter in Kitimat, BC resulted in a permitted increase of 27 to 42 tonnes of sulphur dioxide (SO2) emissions per day. Gaseous SO2 is a pollutant known to contribute to acidic deposition through processes of wet and dry deposition and can additionally react in-atmosphere to form particulate sulphate (pSO42-). Between June 2017 to October 2018, an extensive network consisting of ion exchange resin (IER) column, passive-diffusive, and active filter-pack samplers was established to provide an estimate of total annual S deposition and pSO42- variation throughout the Kitimat Valley. Filter-pack sampling determined the relative concentration of pSO42- increased downwind of the smelter. Comparison of observation-based and modelled total annual deposition suggested CALPUFF was accurate in representing the spatial viability of S deposition (R2 = > 0.85). However, the model appeared to overpredict near-field deposition suggesting the potential of underestimation further downwind of the smelter. Author Keywords: aluminum smelter, atmospheric deposition, filter-pack sampler, ion-exchange column sampler, pSO42-, SO2
Effects of Silver Nanoparticles on Lower Trophic Levels in Aquatic Ecosystems
Due to their effective antibacterial and antifungal properties, silver nanoparticles (AgNPs) have quickly become the most commonly used nanomaterial, with applications in industry, medicine and consumer products. This increased use of AgNPs over the past decade will inevitably result in an elevated release of nanoparticles into the environment, highlighting the importance of assessing the environmental impacts of these nanomaterials on aquatic ecosystems. Although numerous laboratory studies have already reported on the negative effects of AgNPs to freshwater organisms, only a handful of studies have investigated the impacts of environmentally relevant levels of AgNPs on whole communities under natural conditions. This thesis examines the effects of chronic AgNP exposure on natural freshwater littoral microcrustacean, benthic macroinvertebrate and pelagic zooplankton communities. To assess the responses of these communities to AgNPs, I focused on a solely field-based approach, combining a six-week mesocosm study with a three-year whole lake experiment at the IISD – Experimental Lakes Area (Ontario, Canada). Our mesocosm study tested the effects of AgNP concentration (low, medium and high dose), surface coating (citrate- and polyvinylpyrrolidone [PVP]-coated AgNPs), and type of exposure (chronic and pulsed addition) on benthic macroinvertebrates in fine and stony sediments. Relative abundances of metal-tolerant Chironomidae in fine sediments were highest in high dose PVP-AgNP treatments; however, no negative effects of AgNP exposure were seen on biodiversity metrics or overall community structure throughout the study. I observed similar results within the whole lake study that incorporated a long-term addition of low levels of AgNPs to an experimental lake. Mixed-effects models and multivariate methods revealed a decline in all species of the littoral microcrustacean family Chydoridae in the final year of the study within our experimental lake, suggesting that this taxon may be sensitive to AgNP exposure; however, these effects were fairly subtle and were not reflected in the overall composition of littoral communities. No other negative effects of AgNPs were observed on the pelagic zooplankton or benthic macroinvertebrate communities. My results demonstrate that environmentally relevant levels of AgNPs have little impact on natural freshwater microcrustacean and benthic macroinvertebrate communities. Instead, biodiversity metrics and community structure are primarily influenced by seasonal dynamics and nutrient concentrations across both lakes. This thesis highlights the importance of incorporating environmental conditions and the natural variability of communities when examining the potential risks posed by the release of AgNPs into the environment, as simplistic laboratory bioassays may not provide an adequate assessment of the long-term impacts of AgNPs on freshwater systems. Author Keywords: Benthic macroinvertebrates, IISD - Experimental Lakes Area, Littoral microcrustaceans, Silver nanoparticles, Whole lake experiment, Zooplankton
Assessing basin storage
Water storage is a fundamental component of drainage basins, controlling the synchronization between precipitation input and streamflow output. The ability of a drainage basin to store water and regulate streamflow may mediate sensitivity to climate and land cover change. There is currently no agreement on the best way to quantify basin storage. This study compares results of a combined hydrometric and isotopic approach for characterizing inter-basin differences in storage across the Oak Ridges Moraine (ORM) in southern Ontario. The ratio of the standard deviation of the stable isotope signature of streamflow relative to that of precipitation has been shown to be inversely proportional to mean water transit times, with smaller ratios indicating longer water transit times and implying greater storage. Stable isotope standard deviation ratios were inversely related to baseflow index values. Basins demonstrating longer transit times were associated with hydrological characteristics that promote infiltration and recharge of storage. Author Keywords: baseflow, basin storage, climate change, mean transit time, Oak Ridges Moraine, stable isotopes
Effects of wood ash addition on soil chemical properties and sugar maple (Acer saccharum, Marsh.) seedling growth in two northern hardwood forest sites in central Ontario
One possible solution to acidification and losses of base cations in central Ontario forest soils may be the application of wood ash. Wood ash is generally high in pH and contains large amounts of calcium (Ca) and other nutrients essential for ecosystem health, however it also contains trace metals. Understanding the chemistry of soils following ash application to forests is crucial for future policy recommendations and remediation efforts. In this study, soil and soil water chemistry was measured at two acidic forest sites in central Ontario. Sugar maple (Acer saccharum, Marsh.) seedling growth and chemistry, as well as understory vegetation composition, were also measured. At site one, plots (2 m x 2 m) were established with sugar maple, white pine (Pinus strobus L.) and yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis Britt.) residential wood ash treatments and applied at rates of 0 and 6 Mg ha-1. The effects of residential wood ash on soil and understory vegetation were measured three- and 12-months following ash addition. At site two, plots (5 m x 5 m) were established with both fly and bottom industrial grade bark ash treatments of 0, 4 and 8 Mg ha-1 (n=4), and tension lysimeters were positioned in each plot at 30, 50, and 100 cm depths. The effects of industrial grade wood ash on soil, soil water and understory vegetation were measured four years following ash addition. Metal concentrations in the ashes were generally low but were higher in the fly ash and yellow birch ash types. At site one, significant increase in soil pH, and Ca and magnesium (Mg) concentrations were observed after three months, however changes varied by treatment. Some metal concentrations increased in the upper organic horizons, but metals were likely immobilized in the soil due to increases in soil pH, electrical conductivity (EC) and high organic matter content of the soil. After one year, changes to metal concentrations in soils could be seen in mineral horizons, and a few metals (aluminum (Al), zinc (Zn), copper (Cu), chromium (Cr), strontium (Sr)) increased in treatment plots. At site two, the effects of industrial-grade bark ashes on soil pH could still be seen after four years and soil water metal concentrations were not elevated relative to controls. Changes to understory vegetation composition following ash application were observed, but ash addition had no significant effect on sugar maple seedling growth (root:shoot ratio) and did not lead to significant increases in foliar metal concentrations. There were significant differences in root chemistry, suggesting metal translocation and uptake could be restricted. Mass balance estimates indicate that the organic horizon is a sink for all metals and simulated drought in this horizon led to a decrease in soil pH and increase in soil water metal concentration, but this occurred in all treatments including control. These results suggest that application of industrial and residential wood ash in moderate doses with trace metal concentrations below or near regulatory limits will increase soil pH and base cation concentrations, as well as increase seedling tissue nutrient concentrations in northern hardwood forest soils. However, depending on the parent material of the ash, increased metal availability can also occur. Author Keywords: Acer saccharum, calcium decline, forest soil amendment, Haliburton Forest and Wildlife Reserve, heavy metal, wood ash
Fingerprinting of dissolved organic matter and copper ligands in the Canadian Arctic and North Pacific Ocean
Dissolved organic matter (DOM) in oceans provides nutrients and ultraviolet radiation protection to microbes. Some DOM compounds can chelate with metals, including copper, controlling their transport and bioavailability in marine systems. As copper functions as both a nutrient and toxicant, studies into the chemical structures of Cu-ligands is important, however currently limited. In this thesis, the chemical composition of total and Cu-binding DOM is investigated using Fourier transform ion cyclotron resonance mass spectrometry (FT-ICR MS) in the Canadian Arctic and North Pacific. Chapter 2 reveals chemical differences in DOM composition between the southern and northern Canada Basin, revealing the influence of terrestrial and biological sources. Chapter 3 shows the uniqueness of Cu-binding ligands found in the Canadian Arctic and North Pacific Ocean. Studying the composition of DOM gives insight into the chemical diversity of marine DOM, helping to predict the effects of a changing climate on marine ecosystems. Author Keywords: biological, dissolved organic matter, fluorescence, immobilized metal-ion affinity chromatography, mass spectrometry, terrestrial
Characterization of Synthetic and Natural Se8 and Related SenSm Compounds by Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry
Elemental selenium has been extensively quantitatively measured in sediments; however, its physical composition is largely unknown, despite it being the dominant selenium species in some reducing environments. Here, for the first time, it is shown that small, cyclic selenium compounds can account for a quantitatively-relevant fraction of the total elemental selenium present. A new method was developed to analyze for cyclooctaselenium (Se8) in both synthetic samples and selenium-impacted sediments. Despite some analytical limitations, this gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) method is the first GC-MS method developed to identify and quantify Se8 in sediments. Once this method was established, it was then applied to more complex systems: first, the identification of compounds in mixed selenium-sulfur melt solutions, and then the determination of SenSm in selenium-impacted sediments. Despite complications arising from pronounced fragmentation in the ion source, assignment of definitive molecular formulae to chromatographically-resolved peaks was possible for five compounds. Developing a fully quantitative method to obtain elemental ratio information can aid in the assignment of molecular formulae to chromatographically-resolved SeS-containing chromatographic peaks. Coupling the existing gas chromatography method to an inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometer (ICP-MS) system should accomplish this. However, due to a number of complications, this was not completed successfully during the duration of this thesis project. High detection limits for sulfur, retention time discrepancies, and inconsistent injection results between the GC-MS and GC-ICP-MS system led to difficulties in comparing results between both analytical methods. Despite these limitations, GC-ICP-MS remains the most promising method for the identification and quantification of SenSm compounds in synthetic melt mixtures and selenium impacted sediments. Author Keywords: gas chromatography-mass spectrometry, sediments, selenium
Effects of Local, Landscape, and Temporal Variables on Bobolink Nest Survival in Southern Ontario
Populations of grassland birds, including the Bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus), are experiencing steep declines due to losses of breeding habitat, land use changes, and agricultural practices. Understanding the variables affecting reproductive success can aid conservation of grassland species. I investigated 1) whether artificial nest experiments accurately estimate the impacts of cattle on the daily survival rate of Bobolink nests and 2) which local, landscape, and temporal variables affect daily survival rate of Bobolink nests in Southern Ontario. I replicated an artificial nest experiment performed in 2012 and 2015 to compare the daily survival rate of artificial and natural nests at multiple stocking rates (number of cattle × days × ha-1). I also monitored Bobolink nests and modeled daily survival rate using local variables (e.g., stocking rate, field use, patch area), landscape variables (e.g., percent forest within 2, 5, and 10 km), and temporal variables (e.g., year, date of season). Results indicate that artificial nest experiments using clay shooting targets overestimated the impacts of stocking rate on the daily survival rate of Bobolink nests. With natural nests, region (confounded by year and field use), stocking rate, and date of season were the strongest predictors of daily survival rate; with stocking rate and date of season both having a negative effect. Management should focus on conserving pastures with low stocking rates (< 40 cattle × days × ha-1), late-cut hayfields, fallow fields, and other grasslands to protect breeding grounds for the Bobolink and other declining grassland bird species. Author Keywords: Bobolink, Daily survival rate, landscape variables, local variables, Nest survival, temporal variables
Shorebird Habitat Use and Foraging Ecology on Bulls Island, South Carolina During the Non-Breeding Season
Recent declines in North American shorebird populations could be linked to habitat loss on the non-breeding grounds. Sea-level rise and increased frequency of coastal storms are causing significant erosion of barrier islands, thereby threatening shorebirds who rely on shoreline habitats for foraging. I conducted shorebird surveys on Bulls Island, South Carolina in the winters of 2018 and 2019 and examined habitat selection and foraging behaviour in Dunlin (Calidris alpina), Sanderling (Calidris alba), Semipalmated Plovers (Charadrius semipalmatus), and Piping Plovers (Charadrius melodus). Area, tidal stage, and invertebrate prey availability were important determinants of shorebird abundance, behaviour, and distribution. My study highlights the importance of Bulls Island’s habitat heterogeneity to supporting a diverse community of non-breeding shorebirds. Considering both the high rate of erosion and the increased frequency of disturbance along the shoreline of the island, intertidal habitats should be monitored to predict negative effects of changes in habitat composition and area on non-breeding shorebirds. Author Keywords: foraging behaviour, habitat loss, habitat selection, invertebrate prey, non-breeding, shorebirds
An Investigation of Rare Earth Element Patterns and an Application of Using Zn and Cd Isotope Ratios in Oysters to Identify Contamination Sources in an Estuary in Southern China
Environmental monitoring and investigation of metal biogeochemical cycling has been carried out in the Pearl River Estuary (PRE), an important and complex system in Southern China. In this study, rare earth element (REE) patterns as well as isotope ratios (i.e., Zn and Cd) were evaluated as tools to identify contamination sources in environmental compartments (i.e., water and suspended particles (SP)) as well as in oysters collected from estuarine sites. Results show elevated concentrations (also called anomalies) of Pr, Nd, Dy and Ho, relative to other REE elements, in water samples, potentially from REE recycling and other industrialized activities in this area. Unlike water samples, no REE anomalies were found in SP or oysters, suggesting that the dominate REE uptake pathway in oysters is from particles. Secondly, site to site variations in Zn isotope ratios were found in water and SP, showing the complexity of the source inputs in this area. Also, in estuarine locations, larger spatially differences in Zn isotope ratios were found in water collected in wet season than those in dry season, which may due to mixing of different source inputs under the water circulations in different seasons. A series of laboratory experiments were conducted during which changes in Zn isotope ratios were measured during uptake under varying salinity and Zn concentrations and during depuration. Neither in vivo Zn transportation among the various tissues within the oysters nor water exposure conditions (i.e., different salinities or Zn concentrations) caused Zn isotopic fractionation in the oysters. Cd and Zn isotope ratios were also determined in oysters obtained from the PRE. Large variations in Cd and Zn isotope ratios suggest that oysters were receiving contaminants from different input sources within the PRE. A consistent difference (approximately 0.67‰) was observed for Zn isotope ratios in oysters collected from the east side of the PRE compared to those from sampling locations on the western side of the PRE, suggesting different Zn sources in these two areas. Ultimately, by combining biogeochemistry with physiology, this study represents a first attempt to assess pollution status, monitor contaminants using oysters and model/identify contamination sources using both REEs and metal isotope ratios. Author Keywords:


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