Graduate Theses & Dissertations


Intra-seasonal Variation in Black Tern Nest-site Selection and Survival
Resources and risk are in constant flux and an organism’s ability to manage change may improve their likelihood of persistence. I examined intra-seasonal variation in nest-site selection and survival of a declining wetland bird, the Black Tern (Chlidonias niger surinamensis). I modelled nest site occupancy and survival of early and late-nesting birds as a function of static and dynamic factors. Early-nesting birds selected nest sites based on the degree and direction of habitat change that occurred over the nesting cycle, while late-nesting birds selected sites based on static conditions near the time of nest-site selection. Nest age had the strongest influence on daily survival rate for both early and late-nesting birds, but the shape of this relationship showed intra-seasonal differences. Additionally, early-season survival improved slightly with increasing vegetation coverage and distance between conspecific nests, while late-season survival increased with clutch size. My results suggest that intra-seasonal variation in nest-site selection and survival is driven by changing habitat conditions and predator behavior. Author Keywords: Black Tern, Chlidonias niger surinamensis, daily survival rate, intra-seasonal variation, nest-site selection
Population Genetics and Gut Microbiome Composition Reveal Subdivisions and Space Use in a Generalist and Specialist Ungulate
Natural populations are often difficult and costly to study, due to the plethora of confounding processes and variables present. This is of particular importance when dealing with managed species. Ungulates, for example, act as both consumers and prey sources; they also provide economic benefit through harvest, and as such, are of high ecological and economic value. I addressed conservation and management concerns by quantifying subdivision in wild populations and combined movement with non-invasive sampling to provide novel insight on the physiological drivers of space use in multiple species. This thesis explored biological patterns in ungulates using two distinct approaches: the first used molecular genetics to quantify gene flow, while the second examined the relationship between movement and the gut microbiome using high-throughput sequencing and GPS tracking. The goal of the first chapter was to quantify gene flow and assess the population structure of mountain goats (Oreamnos americanus) in northern British Columbia (BC) to inform management. I used microsatellites to generate genotype data and used a landscape genetics framework to evaluate the possible drivers behind genetic differentiation. The same analyses were performed at both a broad and fine scale, assessing genetic differentiation between populations in all of northern BC and in a case management study area northeast of Smithers BC. The results indicated panmixia among mountain goats regardless of scale, suggesting distance and landscape resistance were minimally inhibiting gene flow. Therefore, management at local scales can continue with little need for genetically informed boundaries, but regulations should be tailored to specific regions incorporating data on local access and harvest pressure. My second chapter aimed to determine the extent to which the gut microbiome drives space-use patterns in a specialist (mountain goat) and generalist (white-tailed deer, Odocoileus virginianus) ungulate. Using fecal samples, we generated genomic data using 16S rRNA high-throughput sequencing to evaluate gut diversity and gut microbiome characteristics. Additionally, individuals were fitted with GPS collars so that we could gain insight into movement patterns. Gut microbiome metrics were stronger predictors of space use and movement patterns with respect to home range size, whereas they were weaker predictors of habitat use. Notably, factors of both the gut microbiome and age of a given species were correlated with changes in space use and habitat use. Ultimately, this research linked high-throughput sequencing and GPS data to better understand ecological processes in wild ungulates. Author Keywords: gene flow, genomics, gut microbiome, home range, population genetic structure, ungulates
Risk of Mortality for the Semipalmated Plover (Charadrius semipalmatus) Throughout Its Life Cycle
Three long-term mark and recapture/resight data sets of individually marked Semipalmated Plovers (Charadrius semipalmatus) were analyzed using Cormack-Jolly- Seber models. Data came from two breeding populations (Churchill, Manitoba, Canada, n=982, and Egg Island, Alaska, USA, n=84) and one overwintering population (Cumberland Island, Georgia, USA, n=62). For Alaska and Georgia, time-invariant models were best-supported, giving annual survival estimates of 0.67 (95%C.I.: 0.58- 0.76) and 0.59 (95%C.I.: 0.49-0.67) respectively. Data from Manitoba supported a timedependent model: survival estimates varied from 1.00 to 0.36, with lowest estimates from recent years, supporting observations of local population decline. Seasonal survival analysis of the Georgia population indicated lower mortality during winter (monthly Φoverwinter: 0.959, 95%CI: 0.871-0.988; for 6 month period Φoverwinter: 0.780 (0.440-0.929)) than during combined breeding and migratory periods (monthly ΦBreeding+Migration: 0.879 (0.825-0.918); for 8 month ΦBreeding+Migration: 0356 (0.215-0.504)). I recommend, based on high resight rates, continued monitoring of survival of wintering populations, to determine potential range-wide population declines. Keywords: survival, longevity, mortality, shorebird, overwinter, breeding, migration, life cycle Author Keywords: life cycle, longevity, mortality, non-breeding, shorebird, survival
Diversity, Biogeography, and Functional Traits of Native Bees from Ontario’s Far North and Akimiski Island, Nunavut
Bees (clade Anthophila), are poorly studied in northern Canada, as these regions can be difficult to access and have a short growing season. This study examined bees from two such regions: Ontario’s Far North, and Akimiski Island, Nunavut. I present this study as the largest biogeographical study of bees performed in these remote areas to enhance knowledge of northern native bees. I found 10 geographically unexpected species in Ontario and on Akimiski Island. Rarefaction and the Chao 1 Diversity Index showed that Akimiski is nearly as diverse as the Far North of Ontario, a significantly larger area. I also found, based on log femur length versus latitude, Bombus worker size was consistent with Bergmann’s rule, and there were no apparent statistical differences in the community weighted means of functional traits between the Far North’s Boreal Shield and Hudson Bay Lowlands ecozones. This work provides invaluable knowledge of the native bee species from these regions, which has implications for their future conservation. Author Keywords: Akimiski Island, Bergmann's rule, Chao 1, Community-weighted means, native bees, rarefaction
Conservation Genetics of Woodland Caribou in the Central Boreal Forest of Canada
Maintaining functional connectivity among wildlife populations is important to ensure genetic diversity and evolutionary potential of declining populations, particularly when managing species at risk. The Boreal Designatable Unit (DU) of woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) in Ontario, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan has declined in southern portions of the range because of increased human activities and has been identified as 'threatened' by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). In this dissertation, I used ten microsatellite DNA markers primarily from winter-collected fecal samples to delineate genetic structure of boreal caribou in declining portions of the range and increase understanding of the potential influence of the non-threatened Eastern Migratory DU of woodland caribou on genetic differentiation. Eastern migratory caribou are characterized by large home ranges compared to boreal caribou and migrate seasonally into portions of the Boreal DU range. A regional- and local-scale analysis using the spatial Bayesian clustering algorithm in program TESS delineated four regional clusters and 11 local clusters, with the majority of local clusters occurring along the southern periphery of the range. One of those clusters in Ontario corresponded spatially with the seasonal overlap of boreal and eastern migratory caribou and was characterized by substantial admixture, suggesting that the two DUs could be interbreeding. Next, I decoupled the impacts of historical and contemporary processes on genetic structure and found that historical processes were an important factor contributing to genetic differentiation, which may be a result of historical patterns of isolation by distance or different ancestry. Moreover, I found evidence of introgression from a currently unsampled population in northern Ontario, presumably barren-ground caribou (R. t. groenlandicus). Finally, because our analysis suggested recent processes were also responsible for genetic structure, I used a landscape genetics analysis to identify factors affecting contemporary genetic structure. Water bodies, anthropogenic disturbance, and mobility differences between the two DUs were important factors describing caribou genetic differentiation. This study provides insights on where conservation and management of caribou herds should be prioritized in threatened portions of the boreal caribou range and may have implications for future delineation of evolutionarily significant units. Author Keywords: boreal forest, genetic structure, landscape genetics, microsatellite DNA, Rangifer tarandus, woodland caribou
Prey abundance and habitat during the breeding season for Piping Plovers in the Ontario Great Lakes region
Similar to other shorebird trends around the world, the Piping Plover population (Charadrius melodus circumcinctus) is projected to decline if concerted conservation efforts are relaxed. To date, there is insufficient understanding of the connection between habitat type, prey abundance, and chick behaviour of the Piping Plover breeding population in Ontario. The aim of my thesis was to gain knowledge about prey abundance at recent and historic breeding locations, understanding how habitat influences prey abundance and chick behaviour across the Piping Plover breeding range in Ontario’s Great Lakes. The objective of my first study was to understand prey abundance across the breeding region Great Lakes of Ontario from 2018-2019, including occupied and unoccupied sites, and to quantify variation among habitats and periods of reproduction. To evaluate resources, I sampled 17 locations to compare prey abundance using invertebrate traps (n= 3,507). Sampling took place over the reproductive periods of nest initiation, post-hatch, and fledging and in four habitat types of shoreline, wrack, berm, and back dune. Occupied breeding sites had higher prey abundances, and different assemblages of invertebrate prey than unoccupied sites. Additionally, breeding sites had higher prey abundance during nest initiation and supported higher amounts of prey in shoreline and wrack habitat. The objective of my second study was to understand how habitat types influence chick behaviour. To evaluate behaviour-habitat trends, instantaneous chick observations were recorded at the four nest sites from the post-hatch to fledging stages. In total there were 23 fledged chicks that we observed across the two years. Chicks in this study spent 60.9% of their time foraging, 11.9% of the time displaying alert behaviour, 21.4% of their time resting or being brooded, and 5.9% of their time preening. Chicks spent a large proportion of time foraging in the shoreline, resting in the back dune, and alert in berm habitat. The frequency of these alert, defensive behaviours differed among sites, with Sauble Beach chicks spending more time in defensive behaviours compared to other sites. I concluded that in both nesting and brood-rearing periods, habitat is selected non-randomly by adult and young Piping Plovers to maximize access to invertebrate prey for growth and survival. Access by chicks to the most productive habitats should be considered in local management decisions. Author Keywords: chick behaviour, endangered, Great Lakes Region, habitat, Piping Plovers, prey abundance
Influence of Habitat on Woodland Caribou Site Fidelity
Site fidelity is the behaviour of individuals to return to the same location; for female woodland caribou it may reflect reproductive success and depend on habitat quality. I investigated the influence of landscape and disturbance conditions on fidelity among three populations in Manitoba and Ontario, Canada. Habitat classifications were based on Forest Resource Inventory (FRI) and Landsat TM landcover maps. A total of 261 sites were ground-truthed to determine mapping accuracy. An amalgamated map incorporating FRI and Landsat TM data was estimated from field measurements to have an overall accuracy of 69.0%. Site fidelity was expressed as the distance between consecutive-year locations of individuals and was investigated during five week-long periods representing calving, early and late post-calving, winter, and breeding. Site fidelity was strongest during the post-calving seasons and weakest during the winter. Habitat had little influence on site fidelity in all seasons, excepting winter, even under highly disturbed conditions, suggesting maintenance of fidelity may be a maladaptive trait. Individual variation proved a strong predictor and cursory mapping indicated that caribou may return to sites visited two or more years earlier. Conservation management and policy should recognize that site fidelity may represent an ecological trap. Author Keywords: calving, disturbance, habitat, movement, Rangifer tarandus caribou, site fidelity
Conservation genetics of Redside Dace (Clinostomus elongatus)
Recent range reductions of endangered species have been linked to urban development, increased agricultural activities, and introduction of non-native species. I used Redside Dace (Clinostomus elongatus) as a focal species to examine the utility of novel monitoring approaches, and to understand historical and contemporary processes that have influenced their present distribution. I tested the efficacy of environmental DNA (eDNA) to detect Redside Dace, and showed that eDNA was more sensitive for detecting species presence than traditional electrofishing. Parameters such as season, number of replicates, and spatial versus temporal sampling need to be accounted for when designing an eDNA monitoring program, as they influence detection effectiveness and power. I also assessed the species’ phylogeographic structure using both mitochondrial and microsatellite DNA analysis. The data from the microsatellite markers indicate that Redside Dace populations are genetically structured, with the exception of several populations from the Allegheny River basin. Combined sequence data from three mitochondrial genes (cytochrome b, ATPase 6 and ATPase 8) indicated that Redside Dace persisted within three Mississippian refugia during the last glaciation. Secondary contact between two lineages was indicated by both mitochondrial and microsatellite data. The combined results from the eDNA and conservation genetics studies can be used to inform Redside Dace recovery efforts, and provide a template for similar efforts for other aquatic endangered species. Author Keywords: eDNA, endangered, genetics, phylogeography
Reintroducing species in the 21st century
Climate change has had numerous impacts on species' distributions by shifting suitable habitat to higher latitudes and elevations. These shifts pose new challenges to biodiversity management, in particular translocations, where suitable habitat is considered crucial for the reintroduced population. De-extinction is a new conservation tool, similar to reintroduction, except that the proposed candidates are extinct. However, this novel tool will be faced with similar problems from anthropogenic change, as are typical translocation efforts. Using ecological niche modelling, I measured suitability changes at translocation sites for several Holarctic mammal species under various climate change scenarios, and compared changes between release sites located in the southern, core, and northern regions of the species' historic range. I demonstrate that past translocations located in the southern regions of species' ranges will have a substantial decline in environmental suitability, whereas core and northern sites exhibited the reverse trend. In addition, lower percentages (< 50% in certain scenarios) of southern sites fall above the minimal suitability threshold for current and long-term species occurrence. Furthermore, I demonstrate that three popular de-extinction candidate species have experienced changes in habitat suitability in their historic range, owing to climate change and increased land conversion. Additionally, substantial increase in potentially suitable space is projected beyond the range-limits for all three species, which could raise concerns for native wildlife if de-extinct species are successfully established. In general, this thesis provides insight for how the selection of translocation sites can be more adaptable to continued climate change, and marks perhaps the first rigorous attempt to assess the potential for species de-extinction given contemporary and predicted changes in land use and climate. Author Keywords: climate change, de-extinction, ecological niche models, MaxEnt, reintroduction, translocation
Tests of the Invasional Meltdown Hypothesis in invasive herbaceous plant species in southern Ontario
According to the Invasional Meltdown Hypothesis (IMH), invasive species may interact in their introduced range and facilitate future invasions. This study investigated the possibility that Alliaria petiolata, an invasive allelopathic herbaceous plant in Ontario, is facilitating invasions by additional alien species. Two allelopathic focal species were chosen for this study: the native Solidago canadensis and the invasive A. petiolata. Field surveys in southern Ontario that quantified plant biodiversity in plots that included one or both focal species revealed no support for the IMH, although fewer species co-existed with A. petiolata than with S. canadensis. A year-long recruitment experiment in Peterborough, Ontario, also produced results inconsistent with the IMH, although did provide some evidence that A. petiolata limited recruitment of other species. These results collectively show negative impacts on regional biodiversity by A. petiolata, even in the absence of an invasional meltdown. Author Keywords: allelopathy, Alliaria petiolata, co-occurrence surveys, invasional meltdown hypothesis, invasive species, Solidago canadensis
Enduring Attack
Numerous prey taxa employ defensive postures for protection against attack by predators. Defensive postures mitigate predation risk at various stages of the predator-prey sequence, including through crypsis, mimicry, thanatosis, aposematism, and deflection. In terrestrial salamanders, defensive postures may be aposematic, or deflect attacks away from vital body parts and towards the tail, however the extent to which these strategies act exclusively or synergistically remains poorly understood. Herein I demonstrate a novel approach to study the function of salamander defensive postures through experimental manipulation of predator response to antipredator behaviour in a natural field setting. I deployed 1600 clay salamander prey on Pelee Island, Ontario, manipulating prey size (small, large) and posture (resting, defensive) and documented attack rates across three predator types to further assess the effect of prey body size and predator type on antipredator efficacy. My research suggests that irrespective of prey body size, defensive posture does not function through aposematism, but rather acts to deflect predator attacks to the tail, which is commonly noxious and expendable in terrestrial salamanders. An intriguing possibility is that this behaviour facilitates taste-rejection by predators. Overall, my research should further contribute to our understanding of the importance and potential evolutionary significance of defensive posturing in Ambystoma salamanders, and more broadly, on the determinants of prey vulnerability to predation. I also briefly discuss the implications of my results to the conservation of Ambystoma populations on Pelee Island. Author Keywords: Anti-predator behaviour, Aposematism, Attack deflection, Predator avoidance, Small-mouthed salamander, Taste-rejection
Human Activity and Habitat Characteristics Influence Shorebird Habitat Use and Behaviour at a Vancouver Island Migratory Stopover Site
Pacific Rim National Park Reserve's 16 km of coastal beaches attract many thousands of people and shorebirds every year. To identify locations where shorebirds concentrate and determine the impact of human activity and habitat characteristics on shorebirds, I conducted shorebird and visitor surveys at 20 beach sectors during fall migration in 2011 to 2013 and spring migration in 2012 and 2013. The probability of shorebird presence decreased with increasing number of people at a beach sector. The time that shorebirds spent at a sector increased with increasing sector width. Close proximity to people increased the proportion of time shorebirds spent moving while shorebirds spent more time moving and less time foraging on wider beaches than on narrower ones. My findings suggest that placing restrictions on beach access and fast moving activities (e.g., running) may be necessary to reduce shorebird disturbance at Pacific Rim and similar stopover areas. Author Keywords: habitat use, human disturbance, predation risk, prey availability, shorebird, stopover


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