Graduate Theses & Dissertations


Habitat use within and among roosts of chimney swifts (Chaetura pelagica)
Chimney swifts are listed as Threatened nationally and in many provinces within Canada due to rapid population declines. I examined large-scale spatial variation in the maximum size of chimney swift roosts at the northern edge of their range to identify where larger roosts occur. I used multi-sourced data collected across Ontario and Quebec between 1998 and 2013. I found that larger roosts were found at more northerly latitudes, and that very large roosts (>1000 birds) only occurred north of 45°. I also investigated fine-scale patterns of chimney swift positioning inside one of the largest roosts in Ontario. Using digitally recorded images, I calculated the angular position of swifts inside the roost relative to ambient and roost temperature. I found that swifts showed a strong preference for clinging to the south facing wall and clustered more when ambient air temperature was warmer. Thus, huddling in swifts provides additional or alternate benefits, other than serving purely to reduce costs of thermoregulation at low ambient temperatures. This research contributes to the understanding of chimney swift roosting ecology and identifies large roosting sites that should be retained for conservation. Author Keywords: chimney swift, communal roosting, conservation, group size, social thermoregulation, species-at-risk
Beyond Habitat
My objective was to understand how individual variation, in conjunction with variation in habitat, can affect individual and population-level variation in animal space use. I used coyotes (Canis latrans) as a model species to investigate the roles of hybridization, an inherited intrinsic factor, and spatial memory, a learned intrinsic factor, on space use. I used a diversity of methods and approaches, including meta-regression, multiple imputation, simulations, resource selection functions, step selection functions, net-squared displacement analysis, and survival analysis. A major contribution was my investigation of the performance of multiple imputation in a meta-regression framework in Chapter 2. My simulations indicated that multiple imputation performs well in estimating missing data within a meta-regression framework in most situations. In Chapter 3, I used published studies of coyote home range size in a meta-regression analysis with multiple imputation to examine the relative roles of hybridization and environmental variables on coyote home range size across North America. I found that hybridization with Canis species was a leading factor driving variation in coyote space use at a continental scale. In Chapter 4, I used telemetry data for 62 coyotes in Newfoundland, Canada, to investigate the influence of cognitive maps on resource use. I found that resident coyotes used spatial memory of the landscape to select or avoid resources at spatial scales beyond their immediate sensory perception relative to transient coyotes, presumably increasing their fitness. Taken together, my dissertation demonstrates that intrinsic factors, such as genetic ancestry and spatial memory, can have substantial influences on how animals use space at both individual and population levels, and at both a local and a continental scales. Author Keywords: canis latrans, hybridization, meta-regression, multiple imputation, Newfoundland, spatial memory
Disease ecology of ophidiomycosis in free-ranging snakes
Ophidiomycosis (snake fungal disease) is caused by the pathogen Ophidiomyces ophiodiicola. Infected snakes exhibit dermal lesions, occasional systemic infections, and, in some cases, mortality. We studied snakes at Rondeau Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada, to explore whether ophidiomycosis develops during brumation or year-round. Throughout their active season, we quantified the prevalence of clinical signs of the disease on snakes and conducted qPCR of skin swabs to determine the prevalence of O. ophiodiicola on snakes. Prevalence of O. ophiodiicola and disease symptoms were highest on eastern foxsnakes (Pantherophis vulpinus) and very rare on other snake species. In P. vulpinus, pathogen and clinical sign prevalence was highest, directly after emergence from overwintering, with the majority of P. vulpinus being able to resolve clinical signs of ophidiomycosis by the return of winter. When we analyzed the survivorship of P. vulpinus we determined that the likelihood of a snake dying with ophidiomycosis is similar to a snake dying without ophidiomycosis. Given that P. vulpinus were the most affected species at our study site, ophidiomycosis does not appear to pose an imminent threat to our study population of P. vulpinus under current conditions. Author Keywords: Eastern Foxsnake, Fitness, Ophidiomycosis, Pantherophis vulpinus, Seasonal trends, Snake fungal disease
I implemented three hayfield management regimens in southern Ontario (a typical schedule at the farmer`s discretion, a delayed first harvest after July 14, and an early first harvest before June 1 with 65 days before second harvest), and evaluated the costs/benefits to farmers regarding hay quality and feasibility, and to Bobolinks (Dolichonyx oryzivorus) regarding reproductive activity and phenology. Typical management resulted in little to no Bobolink reproductive success, and early harvested sites were not (re)colonized. On delayed harvest sites Bobolinks experienced high reproductive success, but hay quality fell below ideal protein levels for most cattle before harvest. I also examined the habitat features Bobolinks use as the basis for establishing territories and associations between Bobolink territory size and habitat quality. I compared vegetation structure, patch size, and prey abundance between small and large territories. Small territories typically occurred on smaller fields with more preferred vegetation characteristics and greater prey abundance. Author Keywords: agro-ecosystem, Bobolink, Dolichonyx oryzivorus, grassland birds, hayfield management
Stress Axis Function and Regulation in New World Flying Squirrels
Across vertebrate taxa, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (or the stress axis) is highly conserved, and is central to vertebrate survival because it allows appropriate responses to psychological stressors. Habitat shapes successful physiological and ecological strategies, and to appreciate how individual species respond to stressors in their environment, it is essential to have a thorough knowledge of the basic stress physiology of each species. In this dissertation, I studied the functioning and evolution of the stress physiology of New World flying squirrels. I showed that baseline, circulating cortisol levels in northern (Glaucomys sabrinus) and southern (G. volans) flying squirrels are some of the highest ever reported for mammals, indicating that their stress axes operate at a higher set point than most other species. I also assessed other aspects of their acute stress response, including free fatty acid and blood glucose levels, and indices of immune function, and showed that the flying squirrels’ physiological reaction to stressors may differ from that of other mammals. Using immunoblotting, I found that corticosteroid-binding globulin (CBG) expression levels in flying squirrels appeared to be higher than previously reported using alternative methods. I also concluded however, that these levels did not appear to be high enough to provide their tissues with the protective CBG-bound buffer from their high circulating cortisol concentrations experienced by the majority of vertebrates. Thus, this arm of cortisol regulation within the flying squirrel stress axes may be weak or non-existent. Following this, I focused on southern flying squirrels and showed evidence that the second arm of cortisol regulation — the negative feedback mechanism at the level of the brain — functions effectively, but that this species is glucocorticoid resistant. Their tissue receptors appear to have a reduced affinity for cortisol, and this affinity may change seasonally to allow for the onset of other biological processes required for survival and reproduction. Due to their distinctive stress physiology, northern and southern flying squirrels may provide comparative physiologists with model systems for further probing of the function and evolution of the stress axis among vertebrates. Author Keywords: corticosteroid-binding globulin, flying squirrel, Glaucomys, glucocorticoids, physiological ecology, stress physiology
Habitat Characteristics, Density Patterns and Environmental Niches of Indo-Pacific Humpback Dolphins (Sousa chinensis) of the Pearl River Estuary and Eastern Taiwan Strait
The purpose of this thesis is to quantify the habitat characteristics, density patterns and environmental niches of two groups of Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins: Chinese white dolphins (CWD) of the Pearl River estuary (PRE), and Taiwanese white dolphins (TWD, =Taiwanese humpback dolphin, THD) found in the eastern Taiwan Strait (ETS). Much work has already been done on the habitat use of CWDs in parts of the PRE, so the purpose of my first two chapters was to advance knowledge of the TWD to a comparable level. Chapter 2 contains the first published description of the relatively shallow, inshore, estuarine habitat of the TWD. General environmental characteristics and observed group sizes were consistent with other populations of humpback dolphins, and group sizes were not correlated with the environmental variables measured during surveys. Chapter 3 investigated density patterns of TWDs, finding spatiotemporal heterogeneity across the study area. Humpback dolphin densities fluctuated from year to year, but some parts of the study area were consistently used more than others. Environmental characteristics again did not influence dolphin densities, though more dolphins than expected were sighted in waters adjacent to major land reclamations, which may be related to the location of these areas close to major rivers. In Chapter 4, niches of the TWD and CWDs found in the PRE were compared using species distribution models, which indicated significant niche overlap. This may be due to niche conservatism maintaining similar fundamental niches between the two groups since their historical split >10,000 years ago, or a result of the intrinsic biotic factors that influence occurrence data affecting the hypervolume dimensions of each realized niche in similar ways. Geographic predictions indicate that most of the TWD’s range has likely been surveyed, and that there may be connectivity between PRE humpback dolphins and at least one neighbouring putative population due to continuous predicted suitable habitat in waters that remain poorly surveyed. Overall, my thesis demonstrates that density patterns may vary over time, but on a broad temporal scale, these two allopatric groups of Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins have similar habitat requirements in geographically isolated, but environmentally similar locations. Author Keywords: density, habitat, Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin, niche overlap, Sousa chinensis, species distribution model
Understanding Angler Dynamics in a Recreational Lake Trout (Salvelinus namaycush) Fishery in Algonquin Provincial Park Using Long-Term Access Creel Data
In order to effectively manage recreational fisheries, it is important to understand how the resource is being used. In this thesis, long-term creel census data, collected on Lake Opeongo in Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada was used to assess fine-scale angler dynamics within a recreational Lake Trout (Salvelinus namaycush) fishery. The spatial distribution of angler reported catch locations of Lake Trout within the lake, was assessed using an Optimized Hotspot Analysis in ArcGIS. Areas of significant clustering of catch locations were revealed during all time periods and varied in size and location both seasonally and temporally. Cormack-Jolly-Seber models were used to evaluate the probability of individual angling boats persisting in the regional fishery and being detected on Lake Opeongo through time, as well as to examine the effect of angler travel distance and gas prices on participation parameters. Time-varying models revealed that the probability of an angler persisting in the fishery varied, while detection estimates remained stable. Travel distance had a negative effect on both parameters while increased gas prices only had a slight negative effect on detection estimates. Additionally, among Lake Opeongo anglers, angling avidity varied as did lake specific fishing experience. Average CUE was found to be higher among angling parties who visited the lake more often than fishing parties who visited relatively few times. Author Keywords:
effects of particulate matter on the fate and toxicity of silver nanoparticles
As an emerging contaminant, the antimicrobial agent silver nanoparticles (AgNPs) have been receiving considerable attention to determine their potential effects to aquatic ecosystems. However, estimates of aquatic consumer survivorship and other toxicological endpoints vary considerably among experiments, largely due to the environment in which the test takes place. Throughout this thesis I aim to understand which natural environmental variables impact toxicity to the common aquatic consumer Daphnia. I focus on the effects of particulate matter as it may play a role in animal nutrition as well as interact with AgNPs. I explore particulate matter’s effect on survival in the complex matrices including other natural variables that could impact toxicity. I conduct a series of complimentary field and laboratory studies to understand how particles impact AgNP toxicity and how those interactions vary within whole lake ecosystems. Using laboratory studies, I establish that algal particles mitigate the toxic effects of AgNPs on Daphnia survival through removing Ag from the water column and that phosphorus increases this effect. Using wild Daphnia and lake water, I demonstrate the ability of particulate matter to mitigate toxicity in complex natural settings. It was also one of the major predictors of AgNP toxicity to Daphnia along with dissolved organic carbon and daphnid seasonal health. Finally, using a whole lake AgNP addition experiment, I demonstrate that particles and AgNPs interact variably in the lake. Silver from AgNPs binds to particles and is removed to the sediments through the actions of settling particles without impacting the dynamics of living communities. Overall, I am able to demonstrate that the natural components of lake ecosystems, especially particulate matter, are able to mitigate the effects of AgNPs in lake ecosystems to a point where they likely will be never pose a threat to the survivorship of aquatic consumers such as Daphnia. Author Keywords: Daphnia, ecotoxicity, particulate matter, Silver nanoparticles, whole lake experiment
Detectability and its role in understanding upland sandpiper (Bartramia longicauda) occurence in the fragmented landscape of southern Ontario
Upland Sandpipers (Bartramia longicauda), like many grassland birds, are undergoing population decline in parts of their range. Habitat fragmentation and change have been hypothesized as potential causes of decline. I used citizen-science occurrence data from Wildlife Preservation Canada’s Adopt-A-Shrike Loggerhead Shrike (Lanius ludovicianus) program in conjunction with validation surveys, using similar point-count methods, to examine detectability and determine if landscape level habitat features could predict occupancy of Upland Sandpipers in Southern Ontario. In a single season detectability study, I used Wildlife Preservation Canada’s survey protocol to determine detectability in sites that were known to be occupied. Detectability was low, with six surveys necessary to ensure detection using a duration of at least 18 minutes early in the breeding season. The proportion of open habitat did not affect detection on the landscape. Using a larger spatial and temporal scale, with five years of citizen-science data, I showed that Annual Crop Inventory data could not effectively predict Upland Sandpiper occupancy. Model uncertainty could be attributed to survey protocol and life history traits of the Upland Sandpiper, suggesting that appropriate survey methods be derived a priori for maximizing the potential of citizen-science data for robust analyses. Author Keywords: Bartramia longicauda, citizen-science, detection, landscape, occupancy, Ontario
third wheel
Population cycles are regular fluctuations in population densities, however, in recent years many cycles have begun to disappear. With Canada lynx this dampening has also been seen with decreasing latitude corresponding to an increase in prey diversity. My study investigates the role of alternate prey on the stability of the lynx-hare cycle by first comparing the functional responses of two sympatric but ecologically distinct predators on a primary and alternate prey. I then populated a three species predator-prey model to investigate the role of alternate prey on population stability. My results showed that alternate prey can promote stability, though they are unlikely to “stop the cycle”. Furthermore, stability offered by alternate prey is contingent on its ability to increase intraspecific competition. My study highlights that population cycles are not governed by a single factor and that future research needs to be cognizant of interactions between alternate prey and intraspecific competition. Author Keywords: alternate prey, Canis latrans, functional response, Lepus americanus, Lynx canadensis, Tamiasciurus hudsonicus
Effects of Silver Nanoparticles on Lower Trophic Levels in Aquatic Ecosystems
Due to their effective antibacterial and antifungal properties, silver nanoparticles (AgNPs) have quickly become the most commonly used nanomaterial, with applications in industry, medicine and consumer products. This increased use of AgNPs over the past decade will inevitably result in an elevated release of nanoparticles into the environment, highlighting the importance of assessing the environmental impacts of these nanomaterials on aquatic ecosystems. Although numerous laboratory studies have already reported on the negative effects of AgNPs to freshwater organisms, only a handful of studies have investigated the impacts of environmentally relevant levels of AgNPs on whole communities under natural conditions. This thesis examines the effects of chronic AgNP exposure on natural freshwater littoral microcrustacean, benthic macroinvertebrate and pelagic zooplankton communities. To assess the responses of these communities to AgNPs, I focused on a solely field-based approach, combining a six-week mesocosm study with a three-year whole lake experiment at the IISD – Experimental Lakes Area (Ontario, Canada). Our mesocosm study tested the effects of AgNP concentration (low, medium and high dose), surface coating (citrate- and polyvinylpyrrolidone [PVP]-coated AgNPs), and type of exposure (chronic and pulsed addition) on benthic macroinvertebrates in fine and stony sediments. Relative abundances of metal-tolerant Chironomidae in fine sediments were highest in high dose PVP-AgNP treatments; however, no negative effects of AgNP exposure were seen on biodiversity metrics or overall community structure throughout the study. I observed similar results within the whole lake study that incorporated a long-term addition of low levels of AgNPs to an experimental lake. Mixed-effects models and multivariate methods revealed a decline in all species of the littoral microcrustacean family Chydoridae in the final year of the study within our experimental lake, suggesting that this taxon may be sensitive to AgNP exposure; however, these effects were fairly subtle and were not reflected in the overall composition of littoral communities. No other negative effects of AgNPs were observed on the pelagic zooplankton or benthic macroinvertebrate communities. My results demonstrate that environmentally relevant levels of AgNPs have little impact on natural freshwater microcrustacean and benthic macroinvertebrate communities. Instead, biodiversity metrics and community structure are primarily influenced by seasonal dynamics and nutrient concentrations across both lakes. This thesis highlights the importance of incorporating environmental conditions and the natural variability of communities when examining the potential risks posed by the release of AgNPs into the environment, as simplistic laboratory bioassays may not provide an adequate assessment of the long-term impacts of AgNPs on freshwater systems. Author Keywords: Benthic macroinvertebrates, IISD - Experimental Lakes Area, Littoral microcrustaceans, Silver nanoparticles, Whole lake experiment, Zooplankton
regional comparison of the structure and function of benthic macroinvertebrate communities within Precambrian Shield and St. Lawrence lowland lakes in south-central Ontario
Benthic macroinvertebrtes (BMI) are functionally important in aquatic ecosystems; as such, knowledge of their community structure and function is critical for understanding these systems. BMI were sampled from ten lakes in each of two regions of south-central Ontario to investigate which chemical and physical variables could be shaping their community structure and function. Ten Precambrian Shield lakes in the Muskoka-Haliburton region, and ten St Lawrence lowland lakes in the Kawartha lakes region were sampled. These lakes are geologically and chemically distinct, creating natural chemical and physical gradients within and between both regions. Community function was assessed using stable isotope analysis to elucidate carbon transfer dynamics (δ13C) and food web interactions (δ15N). It was predicted that the BMI from Shield lakes would have a δ13C signature indicative of allochthonous carbon subsidies, whereas the lowland lake BMI signatures would reflect autochthonous production. Additionally, it was predicted that the food web length (measured in δ15N units) would be different in Shield and lowland lakes. Both of these predictions were supported; however, the data indicate that δ13C signatures are more likely influenced by catchment geology (represented by bicarbonate concentration) than the extent of allochthony. The best predictor of food web length was found to be region. To assess BMI community structure, taxonomic richness, %EPT (% Ephemeroptera, Plecoptera, Trichoptera; a water quality index), and distribution of functional feeding groups were examined. Based on chemistry it was expected that the Shield lakes would be more speciose, and of greater water quality (relatively lower nutrient levels). These predictions were rejected; since there were no significant regional differences in taxonomic richness or biologically inferred water quality (%EPT). However, sediment size was found to best explain the variability in both metrics, with greater richness and %EPT found at sites with medium and small substrates than those with large substrates. Significant regional differences were found in the distribution of functional feeding groups. Most notably, there were significantly greater proportions of scrapers and shredders in the lowland and Shield lakes, respectively. Based on the feeding mechanisms of these invertebrates it can be inferred that allochthonous subsidies are likely of greater importance to Shield lake BMI communities than those of the lowland lakes; supporting the carbon transfer prediction. These findings provide insight about the structure and function of BMI communities from two dominant lake types in Ontario, and could be useful when determining how future chemical and physical changes will impact these communities. Author Keywords: benthic macroinvertebrates, community function, community structure, Precambrian Shield, stable isotopes, St. Lawrence lowlands


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