Graduate Theses & Dissertations


Constraints on phenotypic plasticity in response to predation risk
Inducible defenses are plastic responses by an organism to the perception of predation risk. This dissertation focuses on three experiments designed to test the hypothesis that plastic ability is limited by energetic constraints. Chapter 1 provides a general introduction to phenotypic plasticity research and the theoretical costs and limitations affecting the expression of plastic traits. In Chapter 2, I tested the hypothesis that costs of early plasticity may be manifested by a reduced response to risk in later life stages. I found that amphibian embryos are able to detect and respond to larval predators, but that the energetic cost of those plastic responses are not equivalent among behavioural, growth, and morphological traits, and their expression differs between closely-related species. Chapter 3 explicitly examines the relationship between food resource availability and plasticity in response to perceived predation risk during larval development. Food-restricted tadpoles showed limited responses to predation risk; larvae at food saturation altered behaviour, development, and growth in response to predation risk. Responses to risk varied through time, suggesting ontogeny may affect the deployment of particular defensive traits. Chapter 4 examines the influence of maternal investment into propagule size on the magnitude of the plastic responses to predation risk in resulting offspring. I found that females in better body condition laid larger eggs and that these eggs, in turn, hatched into larvae that showed greater morphological plasticity in response to predation risk. Maternal investment can therefore affect the ability of offspring to mount morphological defenses to predation risk. Last, Chapter 5 provides a synthesis of my research findings, identifying specific factors constraining the plastic responses of prey to perceived predation risk. Overall, I found constraints on plastic responses imposed by the current environment experienced by the organism (resource availability), the prior experience of the organism (predator cues in the embryonic environment), and even the condition of the previous generation (maternal body condition and reproductive investment). Together, these findings both provide new knowledge and create novel research questions regarding constraints limiting phenotypic variation in natural populations. Author Keywords: behaviour, inducible defense, Lithobates pipiens, morphometrics, phenotypic plasticity, predation risk
Calving site selection and fidelity in a restored elk (Cervus elaphus) herd in Bancroft, Ontario, Canada
ABSTRACT Calving site selection and fidelity in a restored elk (Cervus elaphus) herd in Bancroft Ontario, Canada. Michael R. Allan Parturition site selection by ungulates is believed to be influenced by forage abundance and concealment from predators. In 2011 and 2012, I used vaginal implant transmitters and movements to identify calving sites for 23 GPS collared elk (Cervus elaphus) from a restored herd. I tested the hypothesis that maternal elk used sites with higher forage and denser concealment compared to pre-calving sites at micro and macrohabitat levels. I detected no significant microhabitat differences from direct measurements of vegetation. At the macrohabitat scale, based on proximity of landcover classes, mean distances to hardwood forests was significantly less for calving (153 m) than pre-calving sites (198 m). Site fidelity is hypothesized to offer security in terms of familiarity to an area. I tested the hypothesis that females demonstrated fidelity to their previous year's location during pre-partum, parturition, post partum, breeding and winter periods. Elk were more philopatric during parturition and post partum than during breeding. Compared to winter elk were more philopatric during pre-partum, parturition and post-partum periods. Expressed as distance between consecutive-year calving locations, site fidelity varied with 27% of females exhibiting high (<1 km), 18% moderate and 55% (>2.9 km) low fidelity. I measured nearest-neighbour distances at calving time, exploring the hypothesis that females distance themselves from conspecifics. Elk increased the average distances to collared conspecifics during parturition; however, sample sizes were small. This strategy might influence calving site selection. Rapid movement prior to parturition, low site fidelity and spacing-out of females during parturition appear to be strategies to minimize predator risk and detection. Little evidence of selection for vegetation structure suggests this may not be limiting to these elk. Author Keywords: calving, elk, fidelity, movement, parturition, selection
Spatial Dynamics of Wind Pollination in Broadleaf Cattail (Typha latifolia)
Natural populations of flowering plants rarely have perfectly uniform distributions, so trends in pollen dispersal should affect the size of the pollination neighbourhood and influence mating opportunities. Here I used spatial analysis to determine the size of the pollination neighbourhood in a stand of the herbaceous, wind-pollinated plant (Typha latifolia; broad-leaved cattail) by evaluating patterns of pollen production and seed set by individual cattail shoots. I found a positive correlation between pollen production and seed set among near-neighbour shoots (i.e., within 4 m2 patches of the stand; Pearson's r = 0.235, p < 0.05, df = 77) that was not driven by a correlation between these variables within inflorescences (Pearson's r = 0.052, p > 0.45, df = 203). I also detected significant spatial autocorrelations in seed set over short distances (up to ~ 5 m) and a significant cross-correlation between pollen production and seed set over distances of < 1 m indicating that the majority of pollination events involve short distances. Patterns of pollen availability were simulated to explore the shape of the pollen dispersal curve. Simulated pollen availability fit actual patterns of seed set only under assumptions of highly restricted pollen dispersal. Together, these findings indicate that even though Typha latifolia produces copious amounts of pollen, the vast majority of pollen dispersal was highly localized to distances of ~ 1 m. Moreover, although Typha latifolia is self-compatible and has been described as largely selfing, my results are more consistent with the importance of pollen transfer between nearby inflorescences. Therefore, realized selfing rates of Typha latifolia should largely depend on the clonal structure of populations. Author Keywords: clonal structure, correlogram, dispersal curves, pollination, spatial analysis, Typha latifolia


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