Graduate Theses & Dissertations

Agriculture as Niche Construction
The Neolithic Period (c. 6200 – 4900 BC) in the Struma River Valley led to numerous episodes of cultural diversification. When compared with the neighbouring regions, the ecological characteristics of the Struma River Valley are particularly heterogeneous and the Neolithic populations must have adapted to this distinctive and localized ecological setting. It then becomes reasonable to ask if the evolution of cultural variability in the Struma River Valley was at least partially driven by the ecological setting and differentiation in the evolution of the early agricultural niche. In this thesis, I apply an approach based on niche construction theory and Maxent species distribution modeling in order to characterize the relationship between culture and ecology during each stage of the Neolithic Period and to assess diachronic change. An interpretation of the results demonstrates that the continuous reconstruction of the early agricultural niche allowed for settlement expansion into new eco-cultural niches presenting different natural selection pressures and that cultural change followed. I also found that cultural and historical contingencies played an equally important role on the evolution of populations and that ecological factors alone cannot account for the numerous episodes of cultural diversification that occurred throughout the region. Author Keywords: Agriculture, Bulgaria, Eco-cultural Niche Modeling, Greece, Neolithic, Niche Construction
Eco-evolutionary Dynamics in a Commercially Exploited Freshwater Fishery
Fisheries assessment and management approaches have historically focused on individual species over relatively short timeframes. These approaches are being improved upon by considering the potential effects of both broader ecological and evolutionary processes. However, only recently has the question been raised of how ecological and evolutionary processes might interact to further influence fisheries yield and sustainability. My dissertation addresses this gap in our knowledge by investigating the role of eco-evolutionary dynamics in a commercially important lake whitefish fishery in the Laurentian Great Lakes, a system that has undergone substantial ecosystem change. First, I link the timing of large-scale ecological change associated with a species invasion with shifts in key density-dependent relationships that likely reflect declines in the population carrying capacity using a model selection approach. Then, using an individual-based model developed for lake whitefish in the southern main basin of Lake Huron, I demonstrate how ecosystem changes that lower growth and recruitment potential are predicted to reduce population productivity and sustainable harvest rates through demographic and plastic mechanisms. By further incorporating an evolutionary component within an eco-genetic model, I show that ecological conditions also affect evolutionary responses in maturation to harvest by altering selective pressures. Finally, using the same eco-genetic model, I provide a much-needed validation of the robustness of the probabilistic maturation reaction norm (PMRN) approach, an approach that is widely used to assess maturation and infer its evolution, to ecological and evolutionary processes experienced by exploited stocks in the wild. These findings together highlight the important role that ecological conditions play, not only in determining fishery yield and sustainability, but also in shaping evolutionary responses to harvest. Future studies evaluating the relative effects of ecological and evolutionary change and how these processes interact in harvested populations, especially with respect to freshwater versus marine ecosystems, could be especially valuable. Author Keywords: Coregonus clupeaformis, density-dependent growth, fisheries-induced evolution, individual-based eco-genetic model, Lake Huron, stock-recruitment
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

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