Graduate Theses & Dissertations

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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
Breeding Phenology and Migration Habits of Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus) in the Hudson Bay Lowlands, Canada
Understanding breeding and migration habits of Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus) in the Hudson Bay Lowlands is important for the conservation of this population. I monitored Whimbrel at two breeding sites: the Churchill region of Manitoba and Burntpoint, Ontario. Annual average nest initiation timing was highly variable and successful nests were initiated significantly earlier than those that failed. Although nests were initiated significantly earlier at Burntpoint than Churchill, annual nest success quantified in program R MARK was similar across sites. Observed nest success rates were lower than historical records and most failure was due to predation. Annual nest survival varied widely and I used a generalized linear model to relate annual nest survival to annual average weather conditions. I observed weak relationships between annual nest survival and weather conditions in the northbound staging grounds. I tracked post-breeding migratory movements using the MOTUS radio telemetry system and observed consistent use of the mid-Atlantic coast of the United States during migration, especially among birds emerging from Churchill. In Burntpoint, I observed more variability in post-breeding migratory trajectories and significantly earlier post-breeding departure as compared to Churchill. The results of my study suggest differences in breeding and migration habits exist across nearby breeding populations, indicating that there is a need for population-specific conservation approaches for this declining species. Author Keywords: Migration, Movement Ecology, Nesting Ecology, Nest Success, Shorebird conservation, Whimbrel
Passage population size, demography, and timing of migration of Red Knots (Calidris canutus rufa) staging in southwestern James Bay
Many shorebirds rely on small numbers of staging sites during long annual migrations. Numerous species are declining and understanding the importance of staging sites is critical to successful conservation. We surveyed endangered rufa Red Knots staging in James Bay, Ontario during southbound migration from 2009 to 2018. We used an integrated population model to estimate passage population size in 2017 and 2018 and found that up to 27% of the total rufa population staged in James Bay. We also extended the model to incorporate age composition of the passage population. In future applications, this method could improve our understanding of the role of breeding success in population declines. We then estimated annual apparent survival from 2009 to 2018. Survival remained near constant, though lower than estimated elsewhere in the Red Knot range, which may reflect higher permanent emigration rates rather than truly lower survival. This work demonstrates that this northern region is a key staging site for endangered Red Knots and should be included in conservation planning. Author Keywords: integrated population model, mark-recapture, migratory stopover, shorebirds, species at risk, survival
Population Genetics and Scarification Requirements of Gymnocladus dioicus
The Kentucky coffee tree (Gymnocladus dioicus) is an endangered tree species native to the American Midwest and Southwestern Ontario. Significant habitat loss and fragmentation due to agricultural, industrial and urban development has caused gradual decline across its native range. The aims of this study were to investigate: (1) patterns of genetic diversity and, (2) genetic differentiation (3) relative levels of sexual vs. clonal reproduction, and (4) potential for reduced genetic diversity at range edge for wild G. dioicus populations. An analysis of variation at nine microsatellite loci from populations in the core of the species distribution in the U.S.A. and 4 regions of Southwestern Ontario indicated that G. dioicus has remarkably high genetic similarity across its range (average pairwise FST= 0.05). Germination trials revealed that the seed coats require highly invasive treatments (e.g. 17.93 mol/L H2SO4) to facilitate imbibition, with negligible germination observed in treatments meant to emulate prevailing conditions in natural populations. Low levels of sexual reproduction, high genetic similarity, and habitat degradation are issues that exist across the entire native range of G. dioicus. Author Keywords:
Spatial dynamics of pollination in dioecious Shepherdia canadensis in Yukon, Canada
Sexual reproduction in flowering plants depends on investment in reproduction, the mode of pollen transfer, the availabilities of nutrient resources and potential mates, and the spatial scales over which these processes take place. In this thesis, I studied the general reproductive biology of Shepherdia canadensis (L.) Nutt. (Elaeagnaceae) and the suite of pollinators that visit the plants in Ivvavik National Park, Yukon, Canada. Across ten sites, I found that S. canadensis females were larger than males, but males produced more flowers than females at most sites. Males typically occurred at higher frequencies than females with the average male to female sex ratio being 1.19 ± 0.08 (mean ± SE, n = 10 sites). Both shrub size and flower production were significantly influenced by interactions between soil nitrogen and sex. Insect visitors to S. canadensis flowers were primarily ants and flower flies (Syrphidae), but exclusion experiments indicated that visitation by flying insects yielded greater fruit production than visitation by crawling insects. I found that fruit set was limited by the density of males within populations, but only over small distances (4-6 m). This is the first study to demonstrate that female reproductive success of a generalist-pollinated dioecious plant is limited by the density of males over small spatial scales. Author Keywords: dioecy, pollinators, sex ratio, sexual dimorphism, Shepherdia canadensis
Using automated radio-telemetry to link food availability, reproductive success, and habitat use of Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica erythrogaster)
Drivers of North American Barn Swallow population declines are not well understood, but foraging habitat loss is thought to be a contributing factor. Determining patterns of habitat use is challenging for swallows because they move rapidly but are too small to carry GPS tags. We showed that automated radio-telemetry could be used to track the movements of swallows with enough accuracy (median error 250 m) to monitor local habitat use. We then combined information on breeding Barn Swallows habitat use, land cover, aerial insect abundance, and fledging success to test for a link between foraging habitat quality and reproductive success. Foraging activity was concentrated within 600 m of nest sites and varied with land cover; however, responses to land cover were not consistent across birds. Aerial insects were most abundant near wetlands and least abundant near open water and over cropland. Consistent with a link between foraging habitat and reproductive success, nests in barns with more wetland and less open water within 1 km, and with less field area within 2 km occupied by row crops, on average fledged more young swallows. Author Keywords: aerial insectivores, automated telemetry, habitat use, land cover, movement, nest success
Longitudinal trends of benthic invertebrates in regulated rivers
The Serial Discontinuity Concept describes the downstream recovery of key biophysical variables below an impoundment. With the proliferation of hydropower dams to meet increasing societal demands, further refinement and understanding of the Serial Discontinuity Concept is needed to accurately predict downstream impacts and ensure the proper management of rivers. In this study, I examine SDC predictions on physical, chemical and biological recovery in regulated rivers providing evidence from 1) a comprehensive literature review and 2) a formal test using two regulated rivers in Northern Ontario. I specifically address how these changes are reflected in benthic invertebrate abundance, diversity, and community composition. The literature review and case studies support the predicted recovery of temperature, periphyton, substrate, and drift. In addition, the study suggests that two recovery gradients exist in regulated rivers: 1) a longer, thermal gradient taking up to hundreds of kilometres downstream; and 2) a shorter, resource subsidy gradient recovering within 1-4 km downstream of an impoundment. Total benthic invertebrate abundance varies considerably and depends on the degree of flow alteration and resource subsidies from the upstream reservoir. In contrast, benthic diversity is reduced below dams irrespective of dam location and operation with little recovery observed downstream. Contrary to SDC predictions, the longitudinal gradient in regulated rivers is not a compaction of functional changes seen over several stream orders in natural rivers but a response to dam design and reservoir conditions. Stoneflies and dragonflies are particularly sensitive to regulation while filter feeding invertebrates are enhanced. Ward and Stanford's (1983) Serial Discontinuity Concept is still a useful framework for testing hypotheses. Future studies should further expand the SDC through empirical estimation within the context of the landscape to gain a better scientific understanding of regulated river ecology. Author Keywords: benthic invertebrates, dams, longitudinal, recovery, River Continuum Concept, Serial Discontinuity Concept
Gene flow directionality and functional genetic variation among Ontario, Canada Ursus americanus populations.
Rapidly changing landscapes introduce challenges for wildlife management, particularly for large mammal populations with long generation times and extensive spatial requirements. Understanding how these populations interact with heterogeneous landscapes aids in predicting responses to further environmental change. In this thesis, I profile American black bears using microsatellite loci and pooled whole-genome sequencing. These data characterize gene flow directionality and functional genetic variation to understand patterns of dispersal and local adaptation; processes key to understanding vulnerability to environmental change. I show dispersal is positively density-dependent, male biased, and influenced by food productivity gradients suggestive of source-sink dynamics. Genomic comparison of bears inhabiting different climate and forest zones identified variation in genes related to the cellular response to starvation and cold. My thesis demonstrates source-sink dynamics and local adaption in black bears. Population management must balance dispersal to sustain declining populations against the risk of maladaptation under future scenarios of environmental change. Author Keywords: American black bear, Dispersal, Functional Genetic Variation, Gene Flow Directionality, Genomics, Local Adaptation
Sexual Dimporphism and Population Dynamics of Sub-Arctic Breding Dunlin (Calidris alpina hudsonia) near Churchill, Manitoba, Canada
Around the world, many populations of migratory shorebirds appear to be declining. Conservation strategies to reverse declining trends rely on, among other information, a firm understanding of breeding ground population dynamics. From 2010 to 2014, I studied a breeding population of Dunlin (Calidris alpina hudsonia) near Churchill, Manitoba using mark-recapture methods. I found that females were significantly larger than males. I subsequently developed an equation based on morphological features that successfully classified 87.1% of females and 92.6% of males, sexed using molecular techniques. Using program MARK, I quantified the annual apparent survival of adults (± SE) within the breeding population (0.82 ± 0.063 for males, 0.73 ± 0.12 for females). Transient adults made up a significant percentage of the female population (32%, P = 0.011), but non-significant in the male population (12%, P > 0.05). Re-sight rate was high for both sexes, and ranged from 0.86-0.90 per year. Sex, year, and nest initiation date were the factors that had the greatest influence on annual returns. There was no significant difference in mean inter-annual nest site distance between sexes (male: 82.01 ± 13.42 m, female: 208.38 ± 55.88 m, P > 0.05). The high survival estimates obtained in this study suggest that the breeding population is stable and may not be contributing to suspected population declines within the subspecies. Author Keywords: demography, discriminant function analysis, mark-recapture, sexual size dimorphism, survival
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
Linking Inuit and Scientific Knowledge and Observations to Better Understand Arctic Char (Salvelinus alpinus (L.)) Community Monitoring
Arctic Char (Salvelinus alpinus (L.)) have been, and remain, an important subsistence resource for the Inuvialuit, the Inuit of the western Canadian Arctic. The effects of climate variability and change (CVC) in this region have been noticeably increasing over the past three decades. There are concerns as to how CVC will affect Arctic Char and the Inuvialuit who rely on this resource as they will have to adapt to changes in the fishery. Community-based monitoring, is an important tool for managing Arctic Char. Therefore, my dissertation focused on the central question of: Which community-based monitoring factors and parameters would provide the information needed by local resources users and decision-makers to make informed choices for managing Arctic Char populations in light of CVC? This question is investigated through an exploratory research approach and a mixed method research design, using both scientific and social science methods, and quantitative (scientific ecological knowledge and observation) and qualitative (Inuvialuit knowledge and observation) information. It is formatted as three journal manuscripts, an introduction, and an integrative discussion. The first manuscript examines potential habitat parameters for monitoring landlocked Arctic Char condition in three lakes on Banks Island in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region. The second manuscript examines potential local environmental parameters for monitoring landlocked Arctic Char growth in the same three lakes. The third manuscript investigates aspects of Arctic Char community-based monitoring programs (CBMP) in the Canadian North that have led to the sustained collection of useful data for management of the resource. This dissertation makes contributions to the field of research by demonstrating the utility of a mixed methods approach. The results demonstrate similarities and differences in char growth and condition within and among Capron, Kuptan and Middle lakes on Banks Island. This supports both lake-specific and regional climate-driven changes, meaning both lake habitat and local environmental monitoring parameters should be used in char CBMP. The investigation of char CBMP across northern Canada demonstrates that an adaptive monitoring approach is important for subsistence fisheries, as changing lifestyles and environmental changes impacting a fishery can have direct effects on the successful operation of char CBMP. Author Keywords: Arctic Char, community-based monitoring, environment, Inuit Knowledge, mixed methods, Traditional Knowledge
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)

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