Graduate Theses & Dissertations


Using DNA Barcoding to Investigate the Diet and Food Supply of a Declining Aerial Insectivote, the Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica)
Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) populations have declined in North America over the past 40 years and they are listed as Threatened in Ontario, Canada. Changes in the food supply have been hypothesized as a potential cause of this population decline. I used DNA barcoding to investigate the diet and food supply of Barn Swallows and to determine if the food supply affects their reproductive performance. In two breeding seasons, I monitored nests, collected fecal samples, and monitored prey availability by collecting insects from the habitat surrounding breeding sites using Malaise traps. I used DNA barcoding to identify insect specimens collected from the habitat and to identify prey items from Barn Swallow nestling fecal samples. I found that Barn Swallow nestlings were fed a very broad range of prey items but were fed larger prey items more frequently. Prey availability was not related to the timing of reproduction, the number of nests at a breeding site, or the reproductive output of individual nests. This study provides information on the diet composition of Barn Swallows in North America and suggests that food limitation during the breeding season may not be a major factor in their population decline. Author Keywords: aerial insectivore, diet, DNA barcoding, Hirundo rustica, metabarcoding, reproductive success
Ground-truthing effective population size estimators using long-term population data from inland salmonid populations
Effective population size (Ne) is a foundational concept in conservation biology, in part due to its relationship to the adaptive potential of populations. Although Ne is often estimated for wild populations, it is rarely calibrated against actual population estimates (Nc) other than to produce Ne/Nc ratios. This project used demographic and genetic data for from two intensively-studied populations of lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush) in Ontario’s Experimental Lake Area (ELA) as baseline data for evaluating the performance of multiple Ne estimators. Several temporal and single-time (point) genetic methods of estimating Ne were compared against demographic Ne estimates and known population data, as well as variation and consistency within and among Ne estimators. Changes in genetic Ne estimates over time were also compared to changes in demographic structure and fluctuating census estimates, including the effect of an experimentally manipulated population bottleneck on demographic and genetic Ne estimates during population reduction and recovery. Sampling years that included the most pre-, during and post-bottleneck data revealed the lowest estimates using temporal estimators (Ne = 16 to 18) despite pre- and post-bottleneck census estimates of 591 and 565. Estimation of Ne had increasingly tighter confidence intervals as sample sizes approached the actual number of breeding individuals in each population. Performance differences among the tested estimators highlight their potential biases and reliance on different assumptions, illustrating their potential value and caveats for assessing adaptive potential of wild populations. Author Keywords: Effective Population Size, Experimental Lakes Area, Fish Population Assessment, Lake Trout, Population Demographics, Population Genetics
Stoichiometric food quality affects responses of Daphnia to predator-derived chemical cues
While both resource quality and predator-derived chemical cues can each have profound effects on zooplankton populations and their function in ecosystems, the strength and nature of their interactive effects remain unclear. We conducted laboratory experiments to evaluate how stoichiometric food quality (i.e., algal carbon (C):phosphorus (P) ratios) affects responses of the water flea, Daphnia pulicaria, to predator-derived chemical cues. We compared growth rates, body elemental content, metabolic rates, life history shifts, and survival of differentially P-nourished Daphnia in the presence and absence of chemical cues derived from fish predators. We found effects of predator cues and/or stoichiometric food quality on all measured traits of Daphnia. Exposure to fish cues led to reduced growth and increased metabolic rates, but had little effect on the elemental content of Daphnia. Elevated algal C:P ratios reduced growth and body %P, increased respiration, and increased body %C. Most of the effects of predator cues and algal C:P ratios of Daphnia were non-interactive. In contrast, the declines in daphnid survival and related population growth rates that arose because of poor food quality were amplified in the presence of predator-derived cues. Our results demonstrate that stoichiometric food quality interacts with anti-predator responses of Daphnia, but these effects are trait-dependent and appear connected to animal life-history evolution. Author Keywords: Daphnia, ecological stoichiometry, indirect predator effects, life history, phosphorus, predator-prey relationships
Fate and Effects of Silver Nanoparticle Addition in a Lake Ecosystem
The potential release of nanoparticles into aquatic environments is raising global concerns. As antimicrobials, silver nanoparticles (AgNPs) are among the most prominent form in use. Despite this, their fate, long-term toxicity, and ecological relevance have yet to be investigated largely under natural settings with seasonality and environmental complexity. To better understand the environmental significance, we released AgNPs into Lake 222 at the Experimental Lakes Area over two years. AgNPs remained suspended in the water column and were detected throughout the lake and in the lower food web. Total Ag concentrations ranged from below 0.07 to 18.9 μg L-1 in lake water, and were highly dynamic seasonally both in the epilimnion and hypolimnion depending on the physical, chemical and biological conditions of the lake. Approximately 60% of the measured Ag mass in October was present in the sediment in 2014 and 50% in 2015 demonstrating relatively high sedimentation and removal from the water column. During winter months, Ag was largely absent in the water column under the ice. After ice melt and before summer stratification, Ag concentrations increased in the lake suggesting AgNPs may not be tightly bound to the sediment and are able re-enter the water column during spring mixing events. Despite temporal variation, total Ag was highly synchronous across spatial locations for both years, indicating rapid dispersal upon lake entry. When investigating AgNP sizes using spICPMS, size distributions were similar across spatial locations, with the 40-60 nm size class constituting approximately 60% of all particles identified. Large aggregates (>100 nm) and dissolved Ag were infrequently detected within the lake. Ag accumulated in the lower food web ranging from 0.27-16.82 μg Ag mg C-1 in the bacterioplankton and 0.17-6.45 μg Ag mg C-1 in algae (particulate fraction). Partial least squares models revealed the highest predictors of Ag accumulation were dissolved nutrients including DOC, TDN, TDP in bacterioplankton. Major predictors for particulate Ag included temperature, dissolved oxygen, and sampling date. The diversity of predictors among biological compartments emphasizes the importance of understanding the role of environmental complexity within the lower food web. Despite Ag accumulation we did not detect strong negative effects on the lake food web. An increase in particulate and bacterioplankton chlorophyll-a occurred after addition in contrast to reference lakes, which may indicate a hormetic response to low dose AgNP concentrations. Our findings provide the first whole-lake perspective regarding Ag fate and toxicity, suggesting small scale experiments may overestimate environmental responses. Author Keywords: Ecotoxicity, Fate, Lower food web, Silver Nanoparticles, Whole-lake addition
Social discrimination by female polar bears (Ursus maritimus) when accompanied by dependent offspring during the ice-free season in southern and western Hudson Bay and James Bay
Polar bears are generally described as solitary, but features of their life cycles and habitats regularly necessitate interaction. Effective conspecific assessment, including accurate recognition and discrimination, likely confers benefits, especially to females accompanied by dependent young. Individuals in the Southern (SH) and Western (WH) Hudson Bay subpopulations are ideal for studying polar bear social behaviours because of the prolonged high densities of the ice-free season. First, I looked outside family groups to model their fine scale sociospatial organization on land. Capture locations were more likely to correspond to family groups when there were fewer neighbouring bears, when a greater proportion of neighbours were female, and when the focal individual and neighbours were significantly related. Second, I looked within the family group to assess offspring recognition. Of 288 offspring in 207 family groups captured in the SH subpopulation from 1999 through 2013, only one case of adoption (of a singleton) was observed. Author Keywords: Adoption, Kin Recognition, Logistic Regression, Maternity Analysis, Social Discrimination, Sociospatial
successful invader in expansion
Researchers have shown increasing interest in biological invasions for the associated ecological and economic impacts as well as for the opportunities they offer to study the mechanisms that induce range expansion in novel environments. I investigated the strategies exhibited by invasive species that facilitate range expansion. Invasive populations exhibit shifts in life-history strategy that may enable appropriate responses to novel biotic and abiotic factors encountered during range expansion. The spatio-temporal scales at which these shifts occur are largely unexplored. Furthermore, it is not known whether the observed dynamic shifts represent a consistent biological response of a given species to range shifts, or whether the shifts are affected by the abiotic characteristics of the new systems. I examined the life-history responses of female round gobies Neogobius melanastomus across fine and coarser spatial scales behind the expansion front and investigated whether invasive populations encountering different environmental conditions (Ontario vs France) exhibited similar life-history shifts. In both study systems, I found an increase in reproductive investment at invasion fronts compared to longer established areas at coarse and fine scales. The results suggest a similar response to range shifts, or a common invasion strategy independent of environmental conditions experienced, and highlight the dynamic nature of an invasive population’s life history behind the invasion front. The second part of my research focused on the development of an appropriate eDNA method for detecting invasive species at early stages of invasion to enable early detection and rapid management response. I developed a simple, inexpensive device for collecting water samples at selected depths for eDNA analysis, including near the substrate where eDNA concentration of benthic species is likely elevated. I also developed a protocol to optimise DNA extraction from water samples that contain elevated concentration of inhibiters, in particular near-bottom samples. Paired testing of eDNA and conventional surveys was used to monitor round goby expansion along its invasion pathway. Round gobies were detected in more sites with eDNA, permitting earlier, more accurate, upstream detection of the expansion front. My study demonstrated the accuracy and the power of using eDNA survey method to locate invasion fronts. Author Keywords: Age-specific reproductive investment, DNA extraction, Energy allocation, Fecundity, Invasion front, Range expansion
Bank Swallow (Riparia riparia) Breeding in Aggregate Pits and Natural Habitats
I examined Bank Swallow (Riparia riparia) colony persistence and occupancy, in lakeshore, river and man-made aggregate pit habitat. Habitat persistence was highest on the lakeshore and lowest in aggregate pits, likely due to annual removal and relocation of aggregate resources. Bank Swallow colonies in aggregate pit sites were more likely to persist if a colony was larger or if burrows were located higher on the nesting face. I also compared nest productivity and health factors of Bank Swallows in lakeshore and aggregate pit habitats. While clutch size was the same in both habitat types, the number of fledglings from successfully hatched nests was significantly higher in aggregate pit sites than from lakeshore sites. Mass of fledgling Bank Swallows did not differ significantly between habitat types, however mass of adults from aggregate pits decreased significantly over the nesting season. Parasite loads on fledgling Bank Swallows were significantly lower in aggregate pits than in lakeshore sites. According to these indicators, aggregate pits appear to provide equivalent or higher quality habitat for Bank Swallows than the natural lakeshore sites, making them adequate and potentially key for this species’ recovery. Aggregate pit operators can manage for swallows by (1) creating longer, taller faces to attract birds and decrease predation, and (2) supplementing their habitat with water sources to encourage food availability. Author Keywords: Aerial insectivore, aggregate pits, Bank Swallow, colony persistence, ectoparasites, substitute habitat
Habitat Preferences and Feeding Ecology of Blackfin Cisco (Coregonus nigripinnis) in Northern Algonquin Provincial Park
Blackfin Cisco (Coregonus nigripinnis), a deepwater cisco species once endemic to the Laurentian Great Lakes, was discovered in Algonquin Provincial Park in four lakes situated within a drainage outflow of glacial Lake Algonquin. Blackfin habitat preference was examined by analyzing which covariates best described their depth distribution using hurdle models in a multi-model approach. Although depth best described their distribution, the nearly isothermal hypolimnion in which Blackfin reside indicated a preference for cold-water habitat. Feeding structure differentiation separated Blackfin from other coregonines, with Blackfin possessing the most numerous (50-66) gill rakers, and, via allometric regression, the longest gill rakers and lower gill arches. Selection for feeding efficiency may be a result of Mysis diluviana affecting planktonic size structure in lakes containing Blackfin Cisco, an effect also discovered in Lake Whitefish (Coregonus clupeaformis). This thesis provides insight into the habitat preferences and feeding ecology of Blackfin and provides a basis for future study. Author Keywords: allometric regression, blackfin cisco, habitat, hurdle models, lake whitefish, mysis
Assessing Canada Lynx Dispersal Across an Elevation Barrier
Mountain ranges are often thought to restrict movement of wildlife, yet previous studies evaluating the role of the Rocky Mountains as a dispersal barrier for Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis) have been contradictory. Our study uses neutral microsatellite loci to evaluate the role of the Rocky Mountains as a barrier to gene flow for lynx. Although lynx exhibited low genetic differentiation, we detected a limited effect of the mountains. Furthermore, we inferred the role played by landscape variables in gene flow (genetic differentiation predicted by landscape resistance). Limited gene flow most strongly related to resistance from physical factors (low snow cover and elevation), rather than other topographic and ecological factors (high terrain roughness, low forest cover, low habitat suitability, and geographic distance). Structural connectivity was a relatively poor predictor of functional connectivity. Overall, the Rockies represent an area of reasonably high functional connectivity for lynx, with limited resistance to gene flow. Author Keywords: Canada lynx, connectivity, gene flow, genetic structure, landscape genetics, Rocky mountains
Nunavik Inuit Knowledge of Beluga
Socio-ecological systems are inherently complex and marine mammals are fundamentally challenging to study. In the Arctic, marine mammals occupy a central ecological role, as nutrient cyclers and as a source of food and culture for Indigenous peoples. Inuit have developed a rich knowledge system, which has not been fully actualized in application in most Arctic research. Considering the need for the best available information in marine mammal ecology, the research question guiding this dissertation was: How can multiple methods and approaches be used to more effectively gather, understand, and represent Inuit Knowledge for an improved understanding of marine mammal ecology? The dissertation investigates this question using a case study of beluga in Nunavik (Arctic Quebec) drawing on the expertise of hunters and Elders to better understand complex questions in marine mammal ecology. The thesis uses a transdisciplinary approach to address the dissertation objective and is comprised of a general introduction, followed by four chapters formatted as journal manuscripts, and closes with an integrated discussion and conclusion. The first manuscript examines the contributions of Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) of beluga to marine mammal literature. The second manuscript uses a sub-set of data gathered through participant mapping to apply a mapping method to explore how the spatial aspects of TEK could be better documented, analyzed, and represented. The third and fourth papers are based on the knowledge shared by hunters and Elders. The third explores the questions ‘why do beluga migrate?’ and ‘what factors influence beluga movement?’. The fourth investigates aspects of beluga foraging ecology. This dissertation makes methodological contributions through the application of kernel density estimators to participant maps as a method for transforming multiple mapped narratives into a quantitative database. The understandings shared by hunters and Elders make significant ecological contributions, particularly to foraging (e.g. diet composition and seasonal energy intake), and movement ecology (e.g. potential drivers of migration). Broadly these findings contribute to our collective understanding of beluga ecology and have implications for wildlife management. Author Keywords: Arctic, Beluga biology, foraging ecology, Inuit Knowledge, migration, transdisciplinary
Investigating wheat rust virulence evolution through transcriptome analysis of a recently emerged race of Puccinia triticina
Puccinia triticina, wheat leaf rust (WLR), is the most economically damaging fungal rust of wheat on a global scale. This study identified transcriptome changes in a recently emerged race of WLR in Ontario with a new virulence type relative to a possible ancestor race. Also, this study focused on detecting variation in candidate virulence genes and uncovering novel insight into WLR virulence evolution. Various race-by-variety interactions were evaluated using RNA-seq experiments. A list of genes with statistically significant expression changes in each comparison was prepared and predicted effectors were retained for further analysis. Proteins with nonsynonymous substitutions were run through BLASTx to identify potential orthologs. Over 100 candidate effectors with a 2-fold or higher change in transcript level were identified. Seven of these candidate effector genes were recognized to contain single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) which altered the amino acid sequence of the resulting protein. The information gained may aid in targeted breeding programs to combat new WLR races as well as provide the basis for functional analysis of WLR using potential orthologs in a model basidiomycete. Author Keywords: effectors, RNA-seq, rust fungi, SNPs, transcriptome, wheat leaf rust
Evaulating the American Woodcock Singing-Ground Survey Protocol in Ontario using Acoustic Monitoring Devices
The breeding phenology of American Woodcocks (Scolopax minor) was evaluated in Ontario, Canada to determine if changes in dates of courtship activity have introduced negative bias into the American Woodcock Singing-ground Survey (SGS). Long-term woodcock phenology and climate data for Ontario were analysed using linear regression to determine if woodcock breeding phenology has changed between 1968 and 2014. There was no significant trend in woodcock arrival date, but arrival date was correlated with mean high temperature in March. In 2011-2013, programmable audio-recording devices (song meters) were deployed at known woodcock singing-grounds to determine if peaks in courtship activity coincided with survey dates used by the SGS. Spectrogram interpretation of recordings and data analyses using mixed-effects models indicated the SGS survey dates were still appropriate, except during the exceptionally early spring in 2012 when courtship displays were waning in one region during the survey window. The methods for interpretation of song meter recordings were validated by conducting point counts adjacent to song meters deployed at singing-grounds, and at randomly selected locations in woodcock habitat. Recommendations for the SGS protocol are included. Author Keywords: detectability, phenology, Scolopax minor, Singing-ground Survey, song meter


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