Graduate Theses & Dissertations

Contemporary adaptive shifts in the physiology and life history of Pumpkinseed (Lepomis gibbosus) introduced into a warm climate
Contemporary evolution has the potential to help limit the biological impact of rapidly changing climates, however it remains unclear whether wild populations can respond quickly enough for such adaptations to be effective. In this thesis, I used the introduction of native North American Pumpkinseed (Lepomis gibbosus) into the milder climate of Europe over 140 years ago, as a 'natural' experiment to test for contemporary evolution to a change in climate in wild populations. In 2008, four outdoor pond colonies were established in central Ontario using adult Pumpkinseed from two native Canadian populations, and two non-native populations from northeastern Spain. By raising native and non-native Pumpkinseed within a common environment, this design minimized the impact of phenotypic plasticity on differential trait expression, and allowed me to interpret differences in the phenotype among pond-reared Pumpkinseed as evidence of genetic differences among populations. I demonstrated that Canadian and Spanish Pumpkinseed have similar thermal physiology except when acclimated to seasonally warm temperatures; trait differences are consistent with Spanish Pumpkinseed being better adapted to a warmer climate. Populations also had similar overwintering ecology, however some differences, such as higher survival under starvation conditions and greater energetic benefits associated with winter feeding, indicated that Canadian populations are better adapted to harsh winter conditions typical of the native range. Finally, I determined that the relatively fast life history expressed in wild European Pumpkinseed is largely driven by plastic responses to the local environment; however, the higher reproductive investment by European populations has a genetic basis. Most climate change research considers taxa that are expected to be negatively impacted by warming: my research demonstrates that even warm-tolerant taxa that are unlikely to experience strong climatic selective forces can respond to a warming environment through evolutionary changes. The potential for adaptive contemporary evolution in warm-tolerant taxa should be taken into account when predicting future ecosystem effects of climate change, and when planning management strategies for species introduced into novel climates. Author Keywords: climate change, contemporary evolution, fish, non-native species, thermal biology, winter ecology
Time-dependent effects of predation risk on stressor reactivity and growth in developing larval anurans (Lithobates pipiens)
The predator vs. prey dynamic is an omnipresent factor in ecological systems that may drive changes in life history patterns in prey animals through behavioural, morphological, and physiological changes. Predation risk can have profound effects on the life history events of an animal, and is influenced by the neuroendocrine stress response. Activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal/interrenal axis, and the induction of stress hormones (e.g., corticosterone (CORT)) have been shown to mediate the onset of inducible anti-predator defensive traits including increased tail-depth, and reduced activity. The predator-prey relationship between dragonfly nymphs and tadpoles can be a powerful model system for understanding mechanisms that facilitate changes in the stress response in accordance with altered severity of risk. It has been well demonstrated early in tadpole ontogeny that increased corticosterone (CORT) levels, observed within three weeks of predator exposure, are correlated with increased tail depth morphology. However, the reactivity of the stress response in relation to the growth modulation in developing prey has yet to be fully explored. Accordingly, this thesis assessed the stress and growth response processes in tadpoles that were continuously exposed to perceived predation risk later in ontogeny. Continuous exposure of prey to predation risk for three weeks significantly increased CORT levels, and tail depth. However, tadpoles exposed to six weeks of predation risk acclimated to the presence of the predator, which was observed as a significant reduction of stressor-induced CORT levels. In addition, although increased tail depth has been attributed to predator defense, predator-naïve tadpoles began to display similar tail depth morphology as treated tadpoles at the six week time point. Thus, this thesis suggests that the stress response in lower vertebrate systems (e.g., tadpoles) may operate in a similarly complex manner to that observed in higher vertebrates (e.g., rats), for which severity of risk associated with the stressor aids in defining activity of the stress response. Moreover, the lack of morphological difference between treatments among tadpoles exposed later in ontogeny suggests that the mechanisms for inducing defenses are normal morphological traits in the development of the animal. This thesis paves the way for future research to elucidate the relationship between the neuroendocrine stress response and hormonal pathways involved in growth modulation in the presence of environmental pressures. Author Keywords: Acclimation, Corticosterone, Growth Modulation, Predation Risk, R. pipiens, Tadpole
Social thermoregulation and potential for heterothermy
Northern and southern flying squirrels (Glaucomys sabrinus and G. volans, respectively) are experiencing a climate change induced increase in range overlap, resulting in recent hybridization. We investigated the occurrence of heterospecific communal nesting, a potential facilitator of hybridization, and aimed to confirm the presence of torpor, a potential barrier to hybridization, in flying squirrels. In wild-caught captive squirrels, we conducted a paired nest choice experiment and found that heterospecific nesting did occur, but in a lower frequency than conspecific nesting. Ambient temperature did not affect the frequency of grouped nesting. We attempted to induce torpor in flying squirrels in a laboratory through cold exposure while measuring metabolic rate and body temperature. Strong evidence of torpor was not observed, and metabolic rate remained unchanged with season. We conclude that torpor is not a barrier to hybridization in flying squirrels, but resistance to heterospecific nesting may indicate the existence of one. Author Keywords: heterospecific group, hybridization, northern flying squirrel, social thermoregulation, southern flying squirrel, torpor
Neonatal Environment Influences Behavioural and Physiological Reactivity to Stressors, and Mammary Gland Development in BALB/c Mice
Using rodent models, it is possible to study the behavioural and physiological outcomes of early life stress and the influences on normal mammary gland development and carcinogenic risk. Results demonstrate that the experience of three weeks of prolonged maternal separation (LMS; 4 hrs/day) increased the susceptibility of adult, but not pubertal, female BALB/c mice to engage in higher levels of depressive-related immobility behaviour and lower levels of active floating (a suggested adaptive coping behaviour) in the acute forced swim test, than offspring that experienced three weeks of brief separation (BMS; 15 min/day) events. Despite the increased immobility behaviour, adult LMS female offspring demonstrated lower basal corticosterone levels relative to BMS females. However, the experience of chronic early-life stress, regardless of the length, results in greater changes between non-stressed and stressed corticosterone levels (i.e. stressor reactivity) in adult females compared to their male counterparts. These changes were associated with decreased glucocorticoid receptor and coactivator-associated arginine methyltransferase 1 protein expression in mammary gland of female LMS mice at young adulthood, highlighting potential mechanisms underlying their heightened risk of mammary tumourigenesis. These data suggest that early life environments can induce behavioural and physiological alterations observed in adulthood, which may have an influence on the likelihood of malignancies developing in the breast. Author Keywords: coping, early life stress, mammary gland development, mother-infant interactions, steroid receptors, stressor reactivity
Ice age fish in a warming world
In the face of climate change, the persistence of cold-adapted species and populations will depend on their capacity for evolutionary adaptation of physiological traits. As a cold-adapted Ice Age relict species, lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush) are ideal for studying potential effects of climate change on coldwater fishes. I studied the thermal acclimation capacity and aerobic metabolism of age 2+ lake trout from four populations across four acclimation temperatures (8ºC, 11ºC, 15ºC, and 19ºC). One population had marginally significant higher active metabolic rate (AMR) and metabolic scope across all temperatures. There was no interpopulation variation for critical thermal maximum (CTM), standard metabolic rate (SMR), or thermal acclimation capacity. Acclimation resulted in a 3ºC increase in thermal tolerance and 3-fold increase in SMR for all populations. At 19ºC, SMR increased and AMR declined, resulting in sharply reduced metabolic scope for all populations. The limited intraspecific variation in thermal physiology suggests that climate change may threaten lake trout at the species rather than population level. Author Keywords: Climate Change, Lake Trout, Metabolic Rate, Salvelinus namaycush, Temperature, Thermal Acclimation

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2011 - 2021
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