Graduate Theses & Dissertations


Comparative Evaluation of Effective Population Size Genetic Estimation Methods in Wild Brook Trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) Populations
Effective population size (Ne) is a key concept in population genetics, evolutionary biology and conservation biology that describes an important facet of genetic diversity and the capacity of populations to respond to future evolutionary pressures. The importance of Ne in management and conservation of wild populations encouraged the development of numerous genetic estimators which rely on a variety of methods. Despite the number and diversity of available Ne methods, however, tests of estimator performance have largely relied on simulations, with relatively few tests based on empirical data. I used well-studied wild populations of brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) in Algonquin Park, Ontario as a model system to assess the comparative performance of multiple Ne estimation methods and programs, comparing the resultant Ne estimates against demographic population size estimates. As a first step, the genetic diversity and ancestry of wild brook trout populations was determined using 14 microsatellite loci. Genetic structure of brook trout populations showed variable contributions from historical supplemental stocking and also identified localized gene pools within and between watersheds, reflecting variable levels of connectivity and gene flow. Once the genetic ancestry and connectivity of populations had been resolved, single sample (point) and two samples (temporal) genetic estimators were used to estimate Ne of populations with pure native ancestry. Values obtained from genetic estimators utilizing both methods were variable within as well as among populations. Single sample (point) estimators were variable within individual populations, but substantially less than was observed among the temporal methods. The ratios of Ne to the estimated demographic population size (N) in small populations were substantially higher than in larger populations. Variation among estimates obtained from the different methods reflects varying assumptions that underlay the estimation algorithms. This research further investigated the effect of sampling effort and number of microsatellite loci used on Ne values obtained using the linkage disequilibrium (LD) estimation method. Ne estimates varied substantially among values generated from subsets of loci and genotyped individuals, highlighting the necessity for proper sampling design for efforts aiming to measure Ne. Despite the variation observed among and within estimation methods, the Ne concept is a valuable for the conservation and management of both exploited and endangered species. Author Keywords: Brook Trout, Effective population size, Genetic Diversity, Genetic Structure
Hybridization Dynamics between Wolves and Coyotes in Central Ontario
Eastern wolves (Canis lycaon) have hybridized extensively with coyotes (C. latrans) and gray wolves (C. lupus) and are listed as a `species of special concern' in Canada. Previous studies have not linked genetic analysis with field data to investigate the mechanisms underlying Canis hybridization. Accordingly, I studied genetics, morphology, mortality, and behavior of wolves, coyotes, and hybrids in and adjacent to Algonquin Provincial Park (APP), Ontario. I documented 3 genetically distinct Canis types within the APP region that also differed morphologically, corresponding to putative gray wolves, eastern wolves, and coyotes. I also documented a substantial number of hybrids (36%) that exhibited intermediate morphology relative to parental types. I found that individuals with greater wolf ancestry occupied areas of higher moose density and fewer roads. Next, I studied intrinsic and extrinsic factors influencing survival and cause-specific mortality of canids in the hybrid zone. I found that survival was poor and harvest mortality was high for eastern wolves in areas adjacent to APP compared with other sympatric Canis types outside of APP and eastern wolves within APP. Contrary to previous studies of wolves and coyotes elsewhere, I hypothesized that all Canis types exhibit a high degree of spatial segregation in the Ontario hybrid zone. My hypothesis was supported as home range overlap and shared space use between neighboring Canis packs of all ancestry classes were low. Territoriality among Canis may increase the likelihood of eastern wolves joining coyote and hybrid packs and exacerbate hybridization. Canids outside APP modified their use of roads between night and day strongly at high road densities (selecting roads more at night), whereas they responded weakly at lower road densities (generally no selection). Individuals that survived exhibited a highly significant relationship between the difference in their night and day selection of roads and availability of roads, whereas those that died showed a weaker, non-significant response. My results suggest that canids in the unprotected landscape outside APP must balance trade-offs between exploiting benefits associated with secondary roads while mitigating risk of human-caused mortality. Overall, my results suggest that the distinct eastern wolf population of APP is unlikely to expand numerically and/or geographically under current environmental conditions and management regulations. If expansion of the APP eastern wolf population (numerically and in terms of its geographic distribution) is a conservation priority for Canada and Ontario, additional harvest protection in areas outside of APP may be required. If additional harvest protection is enacted, a detailed study within the new areas of protection would be important to document specific effects on eastern wolf population growth. Author Keywords: Canis, coyotes, eastern wolves, hybridization, resource selection, survival
Sex-Specific Graphs
Sex-specific genetic structure is a commonly observed pattern among vertebrate species. Facing differential selective pressures, individuals may adopt sex-specific life historical traits that ultimately shape genetic variation among populations. Although differential dispersal dynamics are commonly detected in the literature, few studies have investigated the potential effect of sex-specific functional connectivity on genetic structure. The recent uses of Graph Theory in landscape genetics have demonstrated network capacities to describe complex system behaviors where network topology intuitively represents genetic interaction among sub-units. By implementing a sex-specific network approach, our results suggest that Sex-Specific Graphs (SSG) are sensitive to differential male and female dispersal dynamics of a fisher (Martes pennanti) metapopulation in southern Ontario. Our analyses based on SSG topologies supported the hypothesis of male-biased dispersal. Furthermore, we demonstrated that the effect of the landscape, identified at the population-level, could be partitioned among sex-specific strata. We found that female connectivity was negatively affected by snow depth, while being neutral for males. Our findings underlined the potential of conducting sex-specific analysis by identifying landscape elements that promotes or impedes functional connectivity of wildlife populations, which sometimes remains cryptic when studied at the population level. We propose that SSG approach would be applicable to other vagile species where differential sex-specific processes are expected to occur. Author Keywords: genetic structure, Landscape Genetics, Martes pennanti, Population Graph, sex-biased dispersal, Sex-Specific Graphs
Assessment of an adult lake sturgeon translocation (Acipenser fulvescens) reintroduction effort in a fragmented river system
North American freshwater fishes are declining rapidly due to habitat fragmentation, degradation, and loss. In some cases, translocations can be used to reverse local extirpations by releasing species in suitable habitats that are no longer naturally accessible. Lake sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens) experienced historical overharvest across their distribution, leading to endangered species listings and subsequent protection and recovery efforts. Despite harvest and habitat protections, many populations do not appear to be recovering, which has been attributed to habitat alteration and fragmentation by dams. In 2002, 51 adult lake sturgeon from the Mattagami River, Ontario, Canada were translocated 340 km upstream to a fragmented 35 km stretch of the river between two hydroelectric generating stations, where sturgeon were considered extirpated. This study assessed the translocation effort using telemetry (movement), demographics and genetic data. Within the first year, a portion of the radio-tagged translocated individuals dispersed out of the release area, and released radio-tagged individuals used different areas than individuals radio-tagged ten years later. Catches of juvenile lake sturgeon have increased over time, with 150 juveniles caught within the duration of this study. The reintroduced population had similar genetic diversity as the source population, with a marked reduction in effective population size (Ne). The results indicate that the reintroduction effort was successful, with evidence of successful spawning and the presence of juvenile lake sturgeon within the reintroduction site. Overall, the results suggest adult translocations may be a useful tool for re-establishing other extirpated lake sturgeon populations. Author Keywords: conservation, endangered species, lake sturgeon, reintroduction, telemetry, translocation
Making eDNA count
Environmental DNA (eDNA) is rapidly becoming an established method for the detection of species in aquatic systems and has been suggested as a promising tool to estimate species abundance. However, the strength of the relationship between eDNA concentrations and taxon abundance (density/biomass) can vary widely between species. I investigated the relationship between eDNA concentration and species abundance using two common and closely-related amphibians in eastern North America, the wood frog (Rana sylvatica) and northern leopard frog (Rana pipiens). I manipulated tadpole density in 80 L mesocosms and documented the relationship between tadpole density, biomass, and eDNA concentration. Species were comparable in biomass but differed in the amount of detectible genetic material produced; density and biomass were the superior abundance metric correlated with eDNA concentration for wood frogs and leopard frogs, respectively. However, increases in eDNA concentration reflected increasing tadpole biomass, therefore biomass is likely a better metric of abundance than density. Overall my findings support that eDNA concentration can be used as an index of species abundance, but that species-specific calibration may be needed before eDNA concentration can be effectively translated to an abundance metric. Future research should refine our understanding of how biotic and abiotic factors influence eDNA production, degradation, and recovery across species, before the method can receive widespread use as a monitoring tool in natural settings. Author Keywords: abundance estimates, environmental DNA, mesocosm, Rana pipiens, Rana sylvatica
Long-Term Population Dynamics of an Unexploited Lacustrine Brook Trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) Population
Long-term studies of demographic processes such as survival and abundance conducted in unexploited systems provide unique insight into the natural population ecology of fish, but are rarely available. I used historical tagging records of a sanctuary population of brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) in Algonquin Park, Ontario to investigate long-term population dynamics in an unexploited population. Adult brook trout in Mykiss Lake (23.5ha) were surveyed and tagged biannually (May and October) between 1990 and 2004. Open-population capture-mark-recapture models were used to test the importance of time, size, sex and season on estimates of apparent survival and abundance. Seasonal population growth and recruitment were estimated and compared with large-scale climate indices. Time-dependent survival and abundance estimates fluctuated, with distinct periods of increase. Population growth and recruitment were positively correlated with summer NAO and ENSO values, whereas survival was negatively correlated. Seasonally, larger individuals experienced higher apparent survival during winter and decreased survival during summer. These findings provide valuable insights into the natural demography of unexploited brook trout populations, and should help inform sustainable management of inland fisheries. Author Keywords: capture-mark-recapture, long-term, population dynamics, Salvelinus fontinalis, seasonal variation, survival
De novo transcriptome assembly, functional annotation, and SNP discovery in North American flying squirrels (genus Glaucomys)
Introgressive hybridization between northern (Glaucomys sabrinus) and southern flying squirrels (G. volans) has been observed in some areas of Canada and the USA. However, existing molecular markers lack the resolution to discriminate late-generation introgressants and describe the extent to which hybridization influences the Glaucomys gene pool. I report the first North American flying squirrel (genus Glaucomys) functionally annotated de novo transcriptome assembly with a set of 146,621 high-quality, annotated putative species-diagnostic SNP markers. RNA-sequences were obtained from two northern flying squirrels and two southern flying squirrels sampled from Ontario, Canada. I reconstructed 702,228 Glaucomys transcripts using 193,323,120 sequence read-pairs, and captured sequence homologies, protein domains, and gene function classifications. These genomic resources can be used to increase the resolution of molecular techniques used to examine the dynamics of the Glaucomys hybrid zone. Author Keywords: annotation, de novo transcriptome, flying squirrels, high-throughput sequencing, hybridization, single nucleotide polymorphisms
Comparative phylogeography in conservation biology
Phylogeographic histories of taxa around the Great Lakes region in North America are relevant to a range of ongoing issues including conservation management and biological invasions. In this thesis I investigated the comparative phylogeographic histories of plant species with disjunct distributions and plant species with continuous distributions around the Great Lakes region; this is a very dynamic geographic area with relatively recent colonisation histories that have been influenced by a range of factors including postglacial landscape modifications, and more recently, human-mediated dispersion. I first characterized four species that have disjunct populations in the Great Lakes region: (Bartonia paniculata subsp. paniculata, Empetrum nigrum, Sporobolus heterolepis, and Carex richardsonii). Through comparisons of core and disjunct populations, I found that a range of historical processes have resulted in two broad scenarios: in the first scenario, genetically distinct disjunct and core populations diverged prior to the last glacial cycle, and in the second scenario more recent vicariant events have resulted in genetically similar core and disjunct populations. The former scenario has important implications for conservation management. I then characterized the Typha species complex (T. latifolia, T. angustifolia, T. x glauca), which collectively represent species with continuous distributions. Recent microevolutionary processes, including hybridization, introgression, and intercontinental dispersal, obscure the phylogeographic patterns and complicate the evolutionary history of Typha spp. around the Great Lakes region, and have resulted in the growing dominance of non-native lineages. A broader geographical comparison of Typha spp. lineages from around the world identified repeated cryptic dispersal and long-distant movement as important phylogeographic influences. This research has demonstrated that comparisons of regional and global evolutionary histories can provide insight into historical and contemporary processes useful for management decisions in conservation biology and invasive species. Author Keywords: chloroplast DNA, conservation genetics, disjunct populations, invasive species, phylogeography, postglacial recolonisation
Temperature effects on the routine metabolic rates of brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) eggs, alevin and fry
Early developmental stages of cold-adapted ectotherms such as brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) are at risk of mortality with increasing water temperatures because of their sensitivity to changes in their environment. I studied the mass and routine metabolic rate (RMR) of wild-origin brook trout eggs, alevin and young fry reared at normal (5°C) and elevated (9°C) temperatures for the duration of the study or at mismatched temperatures. This setup determined if preconditioning acclimation for one temperature benefits or hinders the organism later in life. Three levels of biological organization (ancestry, population, family) were studied using Akaike’s Information Criterion (AIC) to identify models that best accounted for variation in the data. Family, mass and temperature were most important in predicting body mass and mass-adjusted RMR, although population and ancestral-level differences were also detected at some life stages. Strong variation in body mass and mass-adjusted RMR among families may indicate adaptive potential within brook trout populations to respond to increases in water temperature with climate change. Author Keywords: Acclimation, AIC, Brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis), Environmental matching, Routine metabolic rate, Temperature
Detection of four at-risk freshwater pearly mussel species (Bivalvia
Environmental DNA (eDNA) detection uses species-specific markers to screen DNA from bulk samples, such as water, to infer species presence. This study involved the development and testing of species-specific markers for four freshwater pearly mussels (Unionidae). The markers were applied to water samples from intensively sampled mussel monitoring sites to compare species detections from eDNA with established sampling method detections. Target species were detected using eDNA at all sites where they had previously been detected by quadrat sampling. This paired design demonstrated that eDNA detection was at least as sensitive as quadrat sampling and that high species specificity can be achieved even when designing against many sympatric unionids. Detection failures can impede species conservation efforts and occupancy estimates; eDNA sampling could improve our knowledge of species distributions and site occupancy through increased sampling sensitivity and coverage. Author Keywords: conservation genetics, cytochrome oxidase subunit I (COI), environmental DNA (eDNA), quantitative PCR (qPCR), species at risk (SAR)
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
Reproductive Fitness of Smallmouth Bass (Micropterus dolomieu) Under Heterogeneous Environmental Conditions
Identifying the biotic and abiotic factors that influence individual reproductive fitness under natural conditions is essential for understanding important aspects of a species’ evolutionary biology and ecology, population dynamics, and life-history evolution. Using next generation sequencing technology, I developed five microsatellite multiplex reactions suitable for conducting large scale parentage analysis of smallmouth bass, Micropterus dolomieu, and used molecular pedigree reconstruction techniques to characterize the genetic mating system and mate selection in adult smallmouth bass nesting in Lake Opeongo, Ontario, Canada. I used multivariate spatial autocorrelation analysis to indirectly infer the occurrence and extent of natal philopatry among spawning adults, to assess the strength and direction of sex-bias in natal dispersal patterns, and to evaluate the degree of nest site fidelity and breeding dispersal of spawning adults. I also evaluated how differences in littoral zone water temperature caused by wind-induced seiche events influence the relative reproductive success of spawning adults. Lastly, I provide a synopsis of potential future research aimed at further exploring factors that influence the reproductive fitness of smallmouth bass in Lake Opeongo. This information will contribute to our understanding of the factors regulating smallmouth bass populations, and provide insight into the factors controlling the variance in individual reproductive success and thus recruitment dynamics in this species. Author Keywords: Dispersal, Fitness, Mate selection, Mating systems, Philopatry


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