Graduate Theses & Dissertations


An Assessment of Spatial Trends in the Accumulation of Oil Sands Related Metals in the Clearwater River Valley and Temporal Trends in Six Northern Saskatchewan Lakes
The objective of this thesis was to assess current spatial trends and historic trends in the accumulation of trace metals related to the Athabasca Oil Sands Region (AOSR). The AOSR hosts some of the largest industrial developments in Canada, yet relatively little is known about the transport and fate of trace metal emissions from the region – particularly in the relatively remote areas to the east of the AOSR. Lichens are widely used as biomonitors and are employed in this thesis to assess the range of metals deposition within the Clearwater River and Athabasca River Valleys. Lake sediment cores can retain a historical record of the long-range transport and deposition of metals but can also respond to large regional metal emissions sources. This thesis used lake sediment cores to assess temporal trends in metals accumulation in six road accessible lakes in NW Saskatchewan that are likely to be used by local residents. Results show that metal concentrations (V, Co, Cu, Ni, Pb, Zn, Zr and Cd ) in lichen decline exponentially with distance from the AOSR and approach background levels within a few kilometers . Results from lake sediment cores show that there was no evidence that metal concentrations had increased due to industrial activities in the AOSR. Author Keywords: Air Emissions, Lakes, Lichens, Oil Sands, Saskatchewan, Trace Metals
An Evaluation of Wastewater Treatment by Ozonation for Reductions in Micropollutant Toxicity to Fish
Micropollutants are discharged into the aquatic environment with industrial and domestic wastewater and these compounds may cause toxic effects in aquatic organisms. In this study, the toxic effects to fish of micropollutants extracted from ozonated and nonozonated municipal wastewater effluent (MWWE) were measured in order to assess the effectiveness of ozonation in reducing toxicity. Juvenile rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) injected with extracts prepared from ozonated MWWE had significantly reduced induction of plasma vitellogenin (VTG), significantly reduced hepatic total glutathione (tGSH) levels and an elevated oxidized-to-total glutathione (GSSG-to-tGSH) ratio. Exposure of Japanese medaka (Oryzias latipes) embryos to extracts prepared from both ozonated and non-ozonated MWWE resulted in elevated developmental toxicity in both treatment groups. These results indicate that wastewater treatment by ozonation reduces the estrogenicity of wastewater, but treatment may induce oxidative stress and embryonic developmental toxicity due to the production of toxic by-products. Author Keywords: Estrogenicity, Micropollutants, Oxidative stress, Ozonation, Toxic by-products, Wastewater
Aquatic Invertebrate Studies from Two Perspectives
Leaf litter decomposition represents a major pathway for nutrient cycling and carbon flow in aquatic ecosystems, and macroinvertebrates play an important role in the processing of this material. To assess the causes of variable leaf breakdown and nutrient fluxes, I measured decomposition rates and the nutrient release ratios of decomposing leaf material across a broad latitudinal gradient in Ontario boreal lakes which varied in nutrients, temperature, and pH. I examined the effects of macroinvertebrates using inclusion and exclusion bags. Generally, leaves decomposed faster in nutrient-rich, warmer lakes. Macroinvertebrates increased decomposition rates but their effects were relatively small compared to regional effects of nutrients and temperature. In addition, we found differential effects of nutrients and temperature on nutrient release ratios, which were partially determined by the release and retention of N and P. These results indicate that changes in these important environmental lake variables could alter decomposition dynamics in Ontario lakes, with implications for nutrient cycling and the storage of this important external carbon source. I studied the biogeography of predaceous diving beetles (Coleoptera: Dytiscidae) in two remote and understudied regions: the Far North of Ontario, and Akimiski Island, Nunavut. I identified 35 species from northern Ontario, including three first provincial records for Ontario, Acilius athabascae Larson (1975), Hygrotus unguicularis (Crotch 1874), and Nebrioporus depressus (Fabricius 1775). I also documented three significant range extensions and six gap-infills for this region. I collected and identified 16 species from Akimiski Island, Nunavut, which include several first time reports for these species for the Nunavut territory. My collections also extend the known ranges of five species into the Hudson Plains Ecozone. This work provides important baseline information on the distribution of diving beetles for these regions. Author Keywords: biodiversity, Boreal Shield, decomposition, Dytiscidae, ecological stoichiometry, macroinvertebrates
Assessing Brook Trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) Seasonal Occupancy in Haliburton County, ON Using Environmental DNA
Brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) are declining across Ontario in both numbers and distribution, prompting concern for their future. Here, conventional, emerging, and predictive tools were combined to document brook trout occupation across seasons using streams in Haliburton County, ON as model systems. By using the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry’s (OMNRFs) Aquatic Ecosystem Classification (AEC) system variables with environmental DNA (eDNA) sampling and backpack electrofishing, my research supports the development of species occupancy models (SOMs) and eDNA as tools to document brook trout occurrence. To do this, eDNA sampling was validated in Canadian Shield stream environments by comparison with single-pass backpack electrofishing before seasonally sampling two river systems across their main channel and tributaries to assess occupancy. Streams were classified as potential high, moderate, and low-quality brook trout habitats using indicator variables within the AEC and sampled seasonally with eDNA to quantify occupancy and relate it to habitat potential at the county scale. Results showed eDNA to be an effective tool for monitoring fish across Canadian Shield landscapes and that brook trout occupancy varied seasonally within and across watersheds, suggesting that habitat and fish management strategies need to consider seasonal movement and spatial connectivity. Using these tools will enable biologists to efficiently predict and document brook trout occurrences and habitat use across the landscape. Author Keywords: Aquatic Ecosystem Classification, brook trout, Canadian Shield, connectivity, environmental DNA, seasonal occupation
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
Assessing Molecular and Ecological Differentiation in Wild Carnivores
Wild populations are notoriously difficult to study due to confounding stochastic variables. This thesis tackles two components of investigating wild populations. The first examines the use of niche modeling to quantify macro-scale predator-prey relationships in canid populations across eastern North America, while the second examines range-wide molecular structure in Canada lynx. The goal of the first chapter is to quantify niche characteristics in a Canis hybrid zone of C. lupus, C. lycaon, and C. latrans to better understand the ecological differentiation of these species, and to assess the impacts of incorporating biotic interactions into species distribution models. The goal of the second chapter is to determine if DNA methylation, an epigenetic marker that modifies the structure of DNA, can be used to differentiate populations, and might be a signature of local adaptation. Our results indicated that canids across the hybrid zone in eastern North America exhibit low levels of genetic and ecological differentiation, and that the importance of biotic interactions are largely lost at large spatial scales. We also identified cryptic structure in methylation patterns in Canada lynx populations, which suggest signatures of local adaptation, and indicate the utility of DNA methylation as a marker for investigating adaptive divergence. Author Keywords: Ecological Epigenetics, Ecological Genetics, SDM
Assessing the Cost of Reproduction between Male and Female Sex Functions in Hermaphroditic Plants
The cost of reproduction refers to the use of resources for the production of offspring that decreases the availability of resources for future reproductive events and other biological processes. Models of sex-allocation provide insights into optimal patterns of resource investment in male and female sex functions and have been extended to include other components of the life history, enabling assessment of the costs of reproduction. These models have shown that, in general, costs of reproduction through female function should usually exceed costs through male function. However, those previous models only considered allocations from a single pool of shared resources. Recent studies have indicated that the type of resource currency can differ for female and male sex functions, and that this might affect costs of reproduction via effects on other components of the life history. Using multiple invasibility analysis, this study examined resource allocation to male and female sex functions, while simultaneously considering allocations to survival and growth. Allocation patterns were modelled using both shared and separate resource pools. Under shared resources, allocation patterns to male and female sex function followed the results of earlier models. When resource pools were separate, however, allocations to male function often exceeded allocations to female function, even if fitness gains increased less strongly with investment in male function than with investment in female function. These results demonstrate that the costs of reproduction are affected by (1) the types of resources needed for reproduction via female or male function and (2) via trade-offs with other components of the life history. Future studies of the costs of reproduction should examine whether allocations to reproduction via female versus male function usually entail the use of different types of resources. Author Keywords: Cost of Reproduction, Gain Curve, Life History, Resource Allocation Patterns, Resource Currencies
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
Biosynthesis and impact of cytokinins on growth of the oyster mushroom, Pleurotus ostreatus
The oyster mushroom, Pleurotus ostreatus, is one of the most widely cultivated edible basidiomycetes. It has gained increased attention for its economic, environmental, and medicinal properties. While a lot is known about cytokinins (CKs) and their actions at the molecular and cellular levels in plants, much less is known about the function of CKs in other kingdoms. Cytokinins, which have been detected in several fungal species, play a role in pathogenic attack against plants or during plant growth promotion by plant beneficial microbes; however, the role of CKs in fungal physiology, separate from plant associations remains largely unknown. This thesis focuses on the occurrence of fungal-derived CKs in P. ostreatus when grown in vitro as submerged or aerial mycelium. Cytokinin profiling by UHPLC-HRMS/MS revealed that P. ostreatus produces CKs and that the tRNA degradation pathway is the main source of these molecules. CK dynamics within fungal growth supported previous evidence, which suggested that tRNA degradation products have a role in the physiological development of fungi for which CKs act as fungal growth regulators. A second component of the thesis demonstrated that P. ostreatus responds to exogenous applications of aromatic and isoprenoid CKs and their effects were dependent on the dose and CK type. N6-Benzyladenine (BAP), Kinetin (KIN), N6-isopentenyladenine (iP), and trans-zeatin (tZ) bioassays revealed hormone-type responses (hormesis: biphasic response). At low doses, mycelium growth could be stimulated, whereas, at high doses only inhibitory effects were observed. This stimulation/inhibition was observed whether the measured response was an increase/decrease of aerial mycelium colony diameter, biomass accumulation or a change in mycelium morphology as compared to the controls. Results indicated there is potential to alter mycelium growth and development of P. ostreatus; thus, CKs may play the role of a “mycohormone” and may be specifically helpful for medicinal fungi by increasing growth and efficiency to produce many biologically active substances with valuable medical and environmental applications. Author Keywords: cytokinins, fungal-derived CKs, hormesis, mycelium, mycohormone, Pleurotus ostreatus
Calcium Stress in Daphnia Pulicaria and Exposure to Predator-Derived Cues
In recent decades, declining calcium concentrations have been reported throughout lakes across the southern edge of the Canadian Shield. This raises concern as Daphnia populations have shown to be decreasing as they require calcium not only for survival but to mitigate predation risks. Therefore, the purpose of my thesis was to study the adaptability of Daphnia under calcium limitation and predation risk from Chaoborus. Firstly, I examined the effects of calcium limitation and Chaobours kairomones on daphniid life-history and population growth. I found that low calcium concentrations and Chaoborus kairomones affected Daphnia calcium content, life-history traits, and survival. Next, I focused on how calcium concentrations and Chaoborus abundance affected the calcium content and abundance of daphniids. During this study, I also examined the relationship between the abundance of Daphnia and a competitor Holopedium. I found that calcium concentrations and the abundance of Chaoborus affects daphniid abundance. Overall, results from this study show the importance of considering both predation risk and calcium declines to better determine daphniid losses. Author Keywords: anti-predator responses, Chaoborus, competition , Life-History traits, predator cues, Zooplankton
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
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


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