Graduate Theses & Dissertations


Contemporary adaptive shifts in the physiology and life history of Pumpkinseed (Lepomis gibbosus) introduced into a warm climate
Contemporary evolution has the potential to help limit the biological impact of rapidly changing climates, however it remains unclear whether wild populations can respond quickly enough for such adaptations to be effective. In this thesis, I used the introduction of native North American Pumpkinseed (Lepomis gibbosus) into the milder climate of Europe over 140 years ago, as a 'natural' experiment to test for contemporary evolution to a change in climate in wild populations. In 2008, four outdoor pond colonies were established in central Ontario using adult Pumpkinseed from two native Canadian populations, and two non-native populations from northeastern Spain. By raising native and non-native Pumpkinseed within a common environment, this design minimized the impact of phenotypic plasticity on differential trait expression, and allowed me to interpret differences in the phenotype among pond-reared Pumpkinseed as evidence of genetic differences among populations. I demonstrated that Canadian and Spanish Pumpkinseed have similar thermal physiology except when acclimated to seasonally warm temperatures; trait differences are consistent with Spanish Pumpkinseed being better adapted to a warmer climate. Populations also had similar overwintering ecology, however some differences, such as higher survival under starvation conditions and greater energetic benefits associated with winter feeding, indicated that Canadian populations are better adapted to harsh winter conditions typical of the native range. Finally, I determined that the relatively fast life history expressed in wild European Pumpkinseed is largely driven by plastic responses to the local environment; however, the higher reproductive investment by European populations has a genetic basis. Most climate change research considers taxa that are expected to be negatively impacted by warming: my research demonstrates that even warm-tolerant taxa that are unlikely to experience strong climatic selective forces can respond to a warming environment through evolutionary changes. The potential for adaptive contemporary evolution in warm-tolerant taxa should be taken into account when predicting future ecosystem effects of climate change, and when planning management strategies for species introduced into novel climates. Author Keywords: climate change, contemporary evolution, fish, non-native species, thermal biology, winter ecology
Temporo-spatial patterns of occupation and density by an invasive fish in streams
Since its introduction to North America in the 1990s, the Round Goby has spread throughout the Great Lakes, inland through rivers and is now moving into small tributary streams, a new environment for this species in both its native and invaded ranges. I explored density and temporal occupation of Round Gobies in four small streams in two systems in south-central Ontario, Canada in order to determine what habitat variables are the best predictors of goby density. Two streams are tributaries of Lake Ontario and two are tributaries of the Otonabee River, and all of these streams have barriers preventing upstream migration. I found that occupation and density differed between the systems. In the Otonabee River system, Round Gobies occupy the streams year round and the most important factor determining adult density is distance from a barrier to upstream movement, with the entire stream occupied but density highest next to the barriers. In the Lake Ontario system, density is highest at mid-stream and Round Gobies appear to occupy these streams mainly from spring to fall. Adult density in Lake Ontario tributaries is highest in sites with a high percentage of cobble/boulder and low percentage of gravel substrate, while substrate is less important in Otonabee River tributaries. Occupation and density patterns may differ due to contrasting environmental conditions in the source environments and distance to the first barrier preventing upstream movement. This study shows diversity in invasion strategies, and provides insight into the occurrence and movement patterns of this species in small, tributary streams. Author Keywords: biological invasion, Generalised Additive Mixed Model, habitat, Neogobius melanostomus, Round Goby, stream
How Abiotic and Biotic Factors Can Alter the Competitive Landscape in an Aggressive Species Complex (Genus
Competition is known to impact population dynamics through both indirect and direct interactions, and direct interactions can often lead to injury in one or both parties. As such, response to injury through tissue regeneration can be important for surviving post-competitive interaction. However, the impacts of outside factors like temperature and genome size (e.g. polyploidy) are not well studied, especially in syntopic systems. We addressed this knowledge gap by comparing regeneration rates of diploid Ambystoma laterale and triploid unisexual Ambystoma at two ecologically-relevant temperatures. Environmental factors appeared to have stronger effects on regeneration than ploidy level, but overall mass was impacted more strongly by ploidy level. Interestingly, there was an interaction between temperature and time within unisexuals that was absent when comparing different ploidy levels, implying temperature has a more complex effect on polyploids. This study supports the hypothesis that polyploid organisms are better equipped to respond to shifts in their environments, which can give them a competitive advantage at the northern range limit of this species complex. Author Keywords: Ambystoma, Genome dosage, Hybrid vigor, Polyploidy, Thermal optimum, Tissue regeneration
Do birds of a feather flock together
Populations have long been delineated by physical barriers that appear to limit reproduction, yet increasingly genetic analysis reveal these delineations to be inaccurate. The eastern and mid-continent populations of sandhill cranes are expanding ranges which is leading to convergence and warrants investigation of the genetic structure between the two populations. Obtaining blood or tissue samples for population genetics analysis can be costly, logistically challenging, and may require permits as well as potential risk to the study species. Non-invasively collected genetic samples overcome these challenges, but present challenges in terms of obtaining high quality DNA for analysis. Therefore, methods that optimize the quality of non-invasive samples are necessary. In the following thesis, I examined factors affecting DNA quality and quantity obtained from shed feathers and examined population differentiation between eastern and mid-continent sandhill cranes. I found shed feathers are robust to environmental factors, but feather size should be prioritized to increase DNA quantity and quality. Further, I found little differentiation between eastern and mid-continent populations with evidence of high migration and isolation-by-distance. Thus, the two populations are not genetically discrete. I recommend future population models incorporate migration between populations to enhance our ability to successfully manage and reach conservation objectives. Author Keywords: feathers, genetic differentiation, non-invasive DNA, population genetics, population management, sandhill crane (Antigone canadensis)
Characterization of a Zn(II)2Cys6 transcription factor in Ustilago maydis and its role in pathogenesis
Ustilago maydis (D.C.) Corda is a biotrophic pathogen that secretes effectors to establish and maintain a relationship with its host, Zea mays. In this pathosystem, the molecular function of effectors is well-studied, but the regulation of effector gene expression remains largely unknown. This study characterized Zfp1, a putative U. maydis Zn(II)2Cys6 transcription factor, as a modulator of effector gene expression. The amino acid sequence of Zfp1 indicated the presence of a GAL4-like zinc binuclear cluster as well as a fungal specific transcription factor domain. Nuclear localization was confirmed by tagging Zfp1 with enhanced green fluorescent protein. Deletion of zfp1 resulted in attenuated hyphal growth, reduced infection frequency, an arrest in pathogenic development, and decreased anthocyanin production. This phenotype can be attributed to the altered transcript levels of genes encoding predicted and confirmed U. maydis effectors in the zfp1 deletion strain during pathogenic growth. Complementation of zfp1 deletion strain with tin2, an effector involved in anthocyanin induction, suggested this effector is downstream of Zfp1 and its expression is influenced by this transcription factor during in planta growth. When wild-type zfp1 was ectopically inserted in the zfp1 deletion strain, pathogenesis and virulence were partially restored. This, coupled with zfp1 over-expression strains having a similar phenotype as the deletion strains, suggested Zfp1 may interact with other proteins for full function. These findings show that Zfp1, in conjunction with one or more binding partners, contributes to U. maydis pathogenesis, virulence, and anthocyanin production through the regulation of effector gene expression. Author Keywords: effector, pathogenesis, transcription factor, Ustilago maydis, Zea mays, zinc finger
Hybridization dynamics in cattails (Typha spp.,) in northeastern North America
Interspecific hybridization is an important evolutionary process which can contribute to the invasiveness of species complexes. In this dissertation I used the hybridizing species complex of cattails (Typha spp., Typhaceae) to explore some of the processes that could contribute to hybridization rates. Cattails in northeastern North America comprise the native T. latifolia, the non-native T. angustifolia, and their fertile hybrid, T. × glauca. First, I examined whether these taxa segregate by water depth as habitat segregation may be associated with lower incidence of hybridization. I found that these taxa occupy similar water depths and therefore that habitat segregation by water depth does not promote mating isolation among these taxa. I then compared pollen dispersal patterns between progenitor species as pollen dispersal can also influence rates of hybrid formation. Each progenitor exhibits localized pollen dispersal, and the maternal parent of first generation hybrids captures more conspecific than heterospecific pollen; both of which should lead to reduced hybrid formation. I then conducted controlled crosses using all three Typha taxa to quantify hybrid fertility and to parameterize a fertility model to predict how mating compatibilities should affect the composition of cattail stands. I found that highly asymmetric formation of hybrids and backcrosses and reduced hybrid fertility should favour the maintenance of T. latifolia under certain conditions. Finally, I used a population genetics approach to characterize genetic diversity and structure of Typha in northeastern North America to determine the extent to which broad-scale processes such as gene flow influence site-level processes. I concluded that hybrids are most often created within sites or introduced in small numbers rather than exhibiting broad-scale dispersal. This suggests that local processes are more important drivers of hybrid success than landscape-scale processes which would be expected to limit the spread of the hybrid. Though my findings indicate some barriers to hybridization in these Typha taxa, hybrid cattail dominates much of northeastern North America. My results therefore show that incomplete barriers to hybridization may not be sufficient to prevent the continued dominance of hybrids and that active management of invasive hybrids may be required to limit their spread. Author Keywords: fertility model, genetic structure, Hybridization, invasive species, niche segregation, pollen dispersal
Tests of the Invasional Meltdown Hypothesis in invasive herbaceous plant species in southern Ontario
According to the Invasional Meltdown Hypothesis (IMH), invasive species may interact in their introduced range and facilitate future invasions. This study investigated the possibility that Alliaria petiolata, an invasive allelopathic herbaceous plant in Ontario, is facilitating invasions by additional alien species. Two allelopathic focal species were chosen for this study: the native Solidago canadensis and the invasive A. petiolata. Field surveys in southern Ontario that quantified plant biodiversity in plots that included one or both focal species revealed no support for the IMH, although fewer species co-existed with A. petiolata than with S. canadensis. A year-long recruitment experiment in Peterborough, Ontario, also produced results inconsistent with the IMH, although did provide some evidence that A. petiolata limited recruitment of other species. These results collectively show negative impacts on regional biodiversity by A. petiolata, even in the absence of an invasional meltdown. Author Keywords: allelopathy, Alliaria petiolata, co-occurrence surveys, invasional meltdown hypothesis, invasive species, Solidago canadensis
Assessing Molecular and Ecological Differentiation in Wild Carnivores
Wild populations are notoriously difficult to study due to confounding stochastic variables. This thesis tackles two components of investigating wild populations. The first examines the use of niche modeling to quantify macro-scale predator-prey relationships in canid populations across eastern North America, while the second examines range-wide molecular structure in Canada lynx. The goal of the first chapter is to quantify niche characteristics in a Canis hybrid zone of C. lupus, C. lycaon, and C. latrans to better understand the ecological differentiation of these species, and to assess the impacts of incorporating biotic interactions into species distribution models. The goal of the second chapter is to determine if DNA methylation, an epigenetic marker that modifies the structure of DNA, can be used to differentiate populations, and might be a signature of local adaptation. Our results indicated that canids across the hybrid zone in eastern North America exhibit low levels of genetic and ecological differentiation, and that the importance of biotic interactions are largely lost at large spatial scales. We also identified cryptic structure in methylation patterns in Canada lynx populations, which suggest signatures of local adaptation, and indicate the utility of DNA methylation as a marker for investigating adaptive divergence. Author Keywords: Ecological Epigenetics, Ecological Genetics, SDM
Enduring Attack
Numerous prey taxa employ defensive postures for protection against attack by predators. Defensive postures mitigate predation risk at various stages of the predator-prey sequence, including through crypsis, mimicry, thanatosis, aposematism, and deflection. In terrestrial salamanders, defensive postures may be aposematic, or deflect attacks away from vital body parts and towards the tail, however the extent to which these strategies act exclusively or synergistically remains poorly understood. Herein I demonstrate a novel approach to study the function of salamander defensive postures through experimental manipulation of predator response to antipredator behaviour in a natural field setting. I deployed 1600 clay salamander prey on Pelee Island, Ontario, manipulating prey size (small, large) and posture (resting, defensive) and documented attack rates across three predator types to further assess the effect of prey body size and predator type on antipredator efficacy. My research suggests that irrespective of prey body size, defensive posture does not function through aposematism, but rather acts to deflect predator attacks to the tail, which is commonly noxious and expendable in terrestrial salamanders. An intriguing possibility is that this behaviour facilitates taste-rejection by predators. Overall, my research should further contribute to our understanding of the importance and potential evolutionary significance of defensive posturing in Ambystoma salamanders, and more broadly, on the determinants of prey vulnerability to predation. I also briefly discuss the implications of my results to the conservation of Ambystoma populations on Pelee Island. Author Keywords: Anti-predator behaviour, Aposematism, Attack deflection, Predator avoidance, Small-mouthed salamander, Taste-rejection
Aquatic Invertebrate Studies from Two Perspectives
Leaf litter decomposition represents a major pathway for nutrient cycling and carbon flow in aquatic ecosystems, and macroinvertebrates play an important role in the processing of this material. To assess the causes of variable leaf breakdown and nutrient fluxes, I measured decomposition rates and the nutrient release ratios of decomposing leaf material across a broad latitudinal gradient in Ontario boreal lakes which varied in nutrients, temperature, and pH. I examined the effects of macroinvertebrates using inclusion and exclusion bags. Generally, leaves decomposed faster in nutrient-rich, warmer lakes. Macroinvertebrates increased decomposition rates but their effects were relatively small compared to regional effects of nutrients and temperature. In addition, we found differential effects of nutrients and temperature on nutrient release ratios, which were partially determined by the release and retention of N and P. These results indicate that changes in these important environmental lake variables could alter decomposition dynamics in Ontario lakes, with implications for nutrient cycling and the storage of this important external carbon source. I studied the biogeography of predaceous diving beetles (Coleoptera: Dytiscidae) in two remote and understudied regions: the Far North of Ontario, and Akimiski Island, Nunavut. I identified 35 species from northern Ontario, including three first provincial records for Ontario, Acilius athabascae Larson (1975), Hygrotus unguicularis (Crotch 1874), and Nebrioporus depressus (Fabricius 1775). I also documented three significant range extensions and six gap-infills for this region. I collected and identified 16 species from Akimiski Island, Nunavut, which include several first time reports for these species for the Nunavut territory. My collections also extend the known ranges of five species into the Hudson Plains Ecozone. This work provides important baseline information on the distribution of diving beetles for these regions. Author Keywords: biodiversity, Boreal Shield, decomposition, Dytiscidae, ecological stoichiometry, macroinvertebrates
Enhancing post-mortem interval estimates
The growth of immature insects that develop on human remains can be used to estimate a post-mortem interval (PMI). PMI estimate confidence is negatively affected by: larval killing and preservation methods altering their size, limited morphological parameters to assess larval growth and therefore age, and few available alternate species development data. I compared live specimens to preserved specimens of the same development stages to assess the effects of killing-preservation techniques on morphology, and I introduce a new method that uses digital photography to examine maggot mouthparts for stage grading of Phormia regina. Digital photographic methods enable live insects to be quantified and improve approximations of physiological age. I then use these digital methods to produce a growth-rate model for a beetle commonly found on human remains, Necrodes surinamensis, providing data for PMI estimates that was previously unavailable. Author Keywords: Forensic Entomology, Insect development, Morphometrics, Necrodes surinamensis, Phormia regina, Postmortem interval
Impact of Agricultural Land Use on Bobolink Occurrence, Abundance, and Reproductive Success in an Alvar Landscape
Pastures and hayfields provide surrogate habitat for many declining grassland birds. Understanding agricultural land use dynamics and habitat quality can impact conservation of grassland species. I investigated 1) patterns of land use change in protected and unprotected sites in relationship to Bobolink occurrence in Carden, Ontario, Canada and 2) whether continuous grazing at lowmoderate cattle densities provided suitable breeding habitat, using both real and artificial nests. I replicated the 2001-2005 Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas to evaluate site habitat changes and Bobolink population trends. In continuously grazed pastures and late-cut hayfields, I monitored Bobolink abundance and reproductive success and modeled daily survival rate of nests using habitat management, vegetation structure, and prey availability. Results indicated that Bobolink have declined by -15.3% since 2001 in Carden; losses were explained almost entirely by changes from suitable breeding habitat (e.g. hayfields) to tilled land or by the colonization of shrubs. For pastures, stocking densities of ≤ 1Animal Units/ha did not negatively impact Bobolink. Year and caterpillar biomass, and vegetation height were the strongest predictors of nesting success in pastures and hayfields, respectively. Focus on the preservation of suitable habitat on the breeding grounds and management on small-scale beef farms can contribute to conservation action for this declining species. Author Keywords: agricultural management, avian ecology, Bobolink, continuous grazing, grassland birds, nest success


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