Graduate Theses & Dissertations

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Social thermoregulation and potential for heterothermy
Northern and southern flying squirrels (Glaucomys sabrinus and G. volans, respectively) are experiencing a climate change induced increase in range overlap, resulting in recent hybridization. We investigated the occurrence of heterospecific communal nesting, a potential facilitator of hybridization, and aimed to confirm the presence of torpor, a potential barrier to hybridization, in flying squirrels. In wild-caught captive squirrels, we conducted a paired nest choice experiment and found that heterospecific nesting did occur, but in a lower frequency than conspecific nesting. Ambient temperature did not affect the frequency of grouped nesting. We attempted to induce torpor in flying squirrels in a laboratory through cold exposure while measuring metabolic rate and body temperature. Strong evidence of torpor was not observed, and metabolic rate remained unchanged with season. We conclude that torpor is not a barrier to hybridization in flying squirrels, but resistance to heterospecific nesting may indicate the existence of one. Author Keywords: heterospecific group, hybridization, northern flying squirrel, social thermoregulation, southern flying squirrel, torpor
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
Mixed methods approaches in marine mammal science
This thesis explored the contribution of mixed methods approaches to marine mammal science through the use of concurrent and sequential designs to study distribution and feeding ecology of bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus) in the Arctic region of Nunavik, Quebec, Canada. The study combines Inuit knowledge (IK), collected through semi-directed interviews with Inuit harvesters, and analyses of stable isotopes and trace elements (SI/TE) in baleen plates. A systematic literature review found that mixed methods are increasingly used in marine mammal ecology studies in remote locations, yet are still relatively rare and face a number of challenges. Both IK and SI/TE, indicated that bowhead whales have a seasonal pattern in their distribution and feeding ecology. They are most commonly present in productive nearshore areas in summertime, feeding in areas of great prey diversity, and moving to offshore areas in winter to fast. Mixed methods approaches used in this case study enabled the collection of complementary knowledge about bowhead whale ecology important for local management in a changing climate. This study also shows the value of mixed methods approaches for future marine mammal studies in Nunavik and elsewhere. Author Keywords: Arctic, bowhead whale, distribution, feeding ecology, mixed methods, traditional ecological knowledge
Ecological and morphological traits that affect the fitness and dispersal potential of Iberian pumpkinseed (Lepomis gibbosus)
The Pumpkinseed (Lepomis gibbosus) is a sunfish that is endemic to eastern portions of Canada and the United States. During the late 19th century, the species was introduced into Europe, and it is now present in over 28 countries. Previous attempts to determine the characteristics that can predict the spread of non-indigenous species have been largely unsuccessful, but new evidence suggests that phenotypic plasticity may help to explain the dispersal and range expansion of some organisms. Experimental comparisons on lower-order taxa have revealed that populations from areas outside of their native range are capable of exhibiting stronger levels of phenotypic plasticity than counterparts from their source of origin. Using Pumpkinseed, I conducted the first native/non- native comparison of phenotypic plasticity in a vertebrate. Progeny from adult Pumpkinseed collected in Ontario, Canada and the Iberian Peninsula (Spain) were reared under variable water velocities, habitat type and competitive pressures, three ecological factors that may affect the dispersal potential of fishes introduced into novel aquatic systems. Differences in phenotypic plasticity, assessed from a morphological perspective, were compared among populations using a traditional distance-based approach. All populations exhibited divergent morphological traits that appeared to be inherited over successive generations. In each experiment, all populations responded to environmental change by developing internal and external morphological forms that, in related taxa, enhance and facilitate foraging and navigation; however, non-native populations always exhibited an overall lower level of phenotypic plasticity. Pumpkinseed from non-native areas may have exhibited a reduction in phenotypic plasticity because of population-based differences. Nevertheless, all Pumpkinseed populations studied were capable of exhibiting phenotypic plasticity to novel environmental conditions, and develop morphological characteristics that may enhance fitness and dispersal in perturbed areas. Author Keywords: Invasive species, Morphology, Phenotypic plasticity, Pumpkinseed sunfish, Reaction norm
Scarring, sex assignment, and sex-specific sociality of Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins (Sousa chinensis) in the Pearl River Estuary and eastern Taiwan Strait
The Pearl River Estuary (PRE) and eastern Taiwan Strait (ETS) populations of Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins (Sousa chinensis) contain ~600 and 100 catalogued individuals, respectively. Population demography is important for conservation actions but few animals have been sexed by conventional methods. Longitudinal analysis of tooth-rake scars on dorsal fins showed scars disappear within 7 months; sexing adults by scarring is likely not impacted by juvenile scarring. Using dorsal fin photographs, sex assigned for 87% of catalogued PRE adults (n=300) and for 93% of ETS adults (n=60), using scars hypothesized from male-male competition, was in concordance with sex assigned by DNA, calf association, and ventral photographs. Scarring was higher in presumed males than females and in PRE females than ETS females. Female:male sex ratios were 3:2 (PRE) and 2:1 (ETS), though this likely results from biases in photo-identification methods. Social analysis with presumed sexes showed strong female-female associations in both populations but stronger female-male and male-male associations in PRE. These results support sex differentiation by scarring, which was a non-invasive approach, and sex assignment for many PRE and ETS individuals. Author Keywords: Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins, photo-identification, scarring, sex differentiation, sexes, social structure
HABITAT SELECTION AND LIFE-HISTORY TRAITS OF BREEDING BIRDS IN THE BOREAL-TUNDRA ECOTONE, WITH SPECIAL ATTENTION TO THE AMERICAN ROBIN (TURDUS MIGRATORIUS)
I investigated biodiversity of birds and vegetation associations along the boreal-tundra ecotone in Ivvavik National Park, Yukon Territory, and breeding adaptations used by American Robins (Turdus migratorius) at high latitudes. Twenty bird species were detected over three years using point-count surveys. Densities of American Robin, Dark-eyed Juncos (Junco hyemalis), and Yellow-rumped Warbler (Dendroica coronata) had positive relationships with tree and shrub density, whereas density of White-crowned Sparrows (Zonotrichia leucophrys) was negatively related to tree density. American Robins at this latitude raised only one brood, but females laid slightly larger clutches, the young fledged earlier, and pairs experienced higher nest-success than American Robins at more southerly latitudes. American Robins selected nest sites with high vegetation volume, at both the nest-site, and the nest-patch. This study is important for the first description of the bird community at this high latitude location, and describing how a species at the northern limit of the boreal forest has adapted to living with short-breeding seasons. Author Keywords: American Robin, Ivvavik National Park, Life History, Nest-stie selection, Northern limit
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
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
Neonatal Environment Influences Behavioural and Physiological Reactivity to Stressors, and Mammary Gland Development in BALB/c Mice
Using rodent models, it is possible to study the behavioural and physiological outcomes of early life stress and the influences on normal mammary gland development and carcinogenic risk. Results demonstrate that the experience of three weeks of prolonged maternal separation (LMS; 4 hrs/day) increased the susceptibility of adult, but not pubertal, female BALB/c mice to engage in higher levels of depressive-related immobility behaviour and lower levels of active floating (a suggested adaptive coping behaviour) in the acute forced swim test, than offspring that experienced three weeks of brief separation (BMS; 15 min/day) events. Despite the increased immobility behaviour, adult LMS female offspring demonstrated lower basal corticosterone levels relative to BMS females. However, the experience of chronic early-life stress, regardless of the length, results in greater changes between non-stressed and stressed corticosterone levels (i.e. stressor reactivity) in adult females compared to their male counterparts. These changes were associated with decreased glucocorticoid receptor and coactivator-associated arginine methyltransferase 1 protein expression in mammary gland of female LMS mice at young adulthood, highlighting potential mechanisms underlying their heightened risk of mammary tumourigenesis. These data suggest that early life environments can induce behavioural and physiological alterations observed in adulthood, which may have an influence on the likelihood of malignancies developing in the breast. Author Keywords: coping, early life stress, mammary gland development, mother-infant interactions, steroid receptors, stressor reactivity
Ice age fish in a warming world
In the face of climate change, the persistence of cold-adapted species and populations will depend on their capacity for evolutionary adaptation of physiological traits. As a cold-adapted Ice Age relict species, lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush) are ideal for studying potential effects of climate change on coldwater fishes. I studied the thermal acclimation capacity and aerobic metabolism of age 2+ lake trout from four populations across four acclimation temperatures (8ºC, 11ºC, 15ºC, and 19ºC). One population had marginally significant higher active metabolic rate (AMR) and metabolic scope across all temperatures. There was no interpopulation variation for critical thermal maximum (CTM), standard metabolic rate (SMR), or thermal acclimation capacity. Acclimation resulted in a 3ºC increase in thermal tolerance and 3-fold increase in SMR for all populations. At 19ºC, SMR increased and AMR declined, resulting in sharply reduced metabolic scope for all populations. The limited intraspecific variation in thermal physiology suggests that climate change may threaten lake trout at the species rather than population level. Author Keywords: Climate Change, Lake Trout, Metabolic Rate, Salvelinus namaycush, Temperature, Thermal Acclimation
Carbon and Nitrogen Isotope Changes in Streams along an Agricultural Gradient
Nitrogen is a major constituent of agricultural fertilizers, and nitrogen inputs to stream water via runoff and groundwater lead to a variety of negative environmental impacts. In order to quantify the movement of nitrogen through aquatic food webs, fourteen streams with varying land uses across South-Central Ontario were sampled for two species of fish, freshwater mussels, and water for measurement of isotope ratios of δ15N and δ13C. I found that nitrogen isotopes in fish, water, and mussels were related to the percentage of riparian monoculture, and that carbon isotopes were unrelated to monoculture. Though all species were enriched as monoculture increased, the rate of δ15N enrichment as monoculture increased did not vary between species. This study has improved our understanding of how monoculture affects nutrient enrichment in stream food webs, and assesses the validity of using nitrogen isotopes to measure trophic positions of aquatic organisms across an environmental gradient. Author Keywords: agriculture, fish, food webs, nitrogen, stable isotopes, streams
mechanistic analysis of density dependence in algal population dynamics
Population density regulation is a fundamental principle in ecology, however there remain several unknowns regarding the functional expression of density dependence. One prominent view is that the patterns by which density dependence is expressed are largely fixed across a species, irrespective of environmental conditions. Our study investigated the expression of density dependence in Chlamydomonas reinhartti grown under a gradient of nutrient densities, and hypothesized that the relationship between per capita growth rate (pgr) and population density would vary from concave-up to concave-down as nutrients became less limiting. Contrary to prediction, we found that the relationship between a population's pgr and density became increasingly concave-up as nutrient levels increased. Our results suggest that density dependence is strongly variable depending on exogenous and endogenous processes acting on the population, implying that expression of density regulation depends extensively on local conditions. Population growth suppression may be attributable to environments with high intraspecific competition. Additional work should reveal the mechanisms influencing how the expression of density dependence varies across populations through space and time. Author Keywords: Chlamydomonas reinhartti, density dependence, logistic model, population dynamics, single species growth, theta-logistic equation

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