Graduate Theses & Dissertations


Assessing the population genetic structure of the endangered Cucumber tree (Magnolia acuminata) in southwestern Ontario using nuclear and chloroplast genetic markers.
Magnolia acuminata (Cucumber tree) is the only native Magnolia in Canada, where it is both federally and provincially listed as endangered.Magnolia acuminata in Canada can be found inhabiting pockets of Carolinian forest within Norfolk and Niagara regions of southwestern Ontario. Using a combination of nuclear and chloroplast markers, this study assessed the genetic diversity and differentiation of M. acuminata in Canada, compared to samples from the core distribution of this species across the United States. Analyses revealed evidence of barriers to dispersal and gene flow among Ontario populations, although genetic diversity remains high and is in fact comparable to levels of diversity estimated across the much broader range of M. acuminata in the USA. When examining temporal differences in genetic diversity, our study found that seedlings were far fewer than mature trees in Ontario, and in one site in particular, diversity was lower in seedlings than that of the adult trees. This study raises concern regarding the future viability of M. acuminata in Ontario, and conservation managers should factor in the need to maintain genetic diversity in young trees for the long-term sustainability of M. acuminata in Ontario. Author Keywords: conservation genetics, cpDNA, forest fragmentation, Magnolia acuminata, microsatellites, population genetic structure
Cytokinin Oxidase/Dehydrogenase (CKX) Gene Family in Soybeans (Glycine max)
Glycine max (soybean) is an economically important plant species that registers a relatively low yield/seed weight compared to other food and oil seed crops due to higher rates of flower and pod abortion. Alleviation of this abortion rate can be achieved by altering the sink strength of the reproductive organs of soybeans. Cytokinin (CK) plays a fundamental role in promoting growth of sink organ (flowers and seeds) by increasing the assimilate demand. Cytokinin oxidase/dehydrogenase (CKX) is an enzyme that catalyses the irreversible breakdown of active CKs and hence reduce the cytokinin content. The current thesis uncovers the members of CKX gene family in soybeans and the natural variations among CKX genes within soybean varieties with different yield characteristics. The identification of null variants of OsCKX2 that resulted in large yield increases by Ashikari et al. (2005) provided a rationale for current thesis. The soybean CKX genes along with the ones from Arabidopsis, Rice and Maize were used to construct a phylogenetic tree. Using comparative phylogeny, protein properties and bioinformatic programs, the potential effect of the identified natural variations on soybean yield was predicted. Five genes among the seventeen soybean CKXs identified, showed polymorphisms. One of the natural variations, A159G, in the gene GmCKX16 occurred close to the active site of the protein and was predicted to affect the activity of enzyme leading to higher accumulation of CKs and hence increased seed weight. Use of such natural variations in marker assisted breeding could lead to the development of higher yielding soybean varieties. Author Keywords: CKX, Cytokinins, Seed weight, Seed Yield, SNPs, Soybeans
Evaluating the effects of landscape structure on genetic differentiation and diversity
The structure and composition of the landscape can facilitate or impede gene flow, which can have important consequences because genetically isolated groups of individuals may be prone to inbreeding depression and possible extinction. My dissertation examines how landscape structure influences spatial patterns of genetic differentiation and diversity of American marten (Martes americana) and Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis) in Ontario, Canada, and provides methodological advances useful for landscape geneticists. First, I identified the effects of map boundaries on estimates of landscape resistance, and proposed a solution to the bias: a buffer around the map boundary. Second, I assessed the sensitivity of a network-based estimate of genetic distance, conditional genetic distance, to incomplete sampling. I then used these landscape genetic tools in a pairwise, distance-based analysis of 653 martens genotyped at 12 microsatellite loci. I evaluated whether forest management in Ontario has influenced the genetic structure of martens. Although forest management practices had some impact, isolation by distance best described marten gene flow. Our results suggest that managed forests in Ontario are well connected for marten and do not impede marten gene flow. Finally, I used a site-based analysis of 702 lynx genotyped at 14 microsatellite loci to investigate spatial patterns of genetic diversity and differentiation at the trailing (contracting) edge of the lynx distribution in Ontario. I analyzed harvest records and found that the southern edge of lynx range has contracted by >175 km since the 1970s. I also found that neutral genetic diversity decreased towards the trailing edge, whereas genetic differentiation increased. Furthermore, I found strong correlations between gradients of lynx genetic structure and gradients of climate and land cover in Ontario. My findings suggest that increases in winter air temperature, decreases in snow depth, and loss of suitable habitat will result in further loss of genetic diversity in peripheral populations of lynx. Consequently, the adaptive potential of lynx populations on the southern range periphery could decline. In conclusion, my dissertation demonstrates the varying influences that contemporary landscape structure and climate gradients can have on genetic diversity and differentiation of different species. Author Keywords: Circuitscape, genetic network, landscape genetics, Lynx canadensis, Martes americana, range shift
Selection on functional genes across a flying squirrel (genus Glaucomys) hybrid zone
While hybridization between distinct taxa can have undesirable implications, it can also result in increased genetic variability and potentially, the exchange of adaptive genes or traits. Adaptive variation acquired through introgressive hybridization may be particularly advantageous for species facing rapid environmental change. I investigated a novel, climate change-induced hybrid zone between two flying squirrel species: the southern (Glaucomys volans) and northern (G. sabrinus) flying squirrel. I was interested in the occurrence of hybridization and introgression, the type of selective pressures maintaining the hybrid zone and the potential for adaptive introgression. I found relatively low hybridization and introgression frequencies (1.7% and 2.9% of the population, respectively) and no evidence of selection on hybrids or backcrosses in particular environments. I conclude that the data are more consistent with a hybrid zone maintained by endogenous (environment-independent) selection. I tested for adaptive introgression using two functional genes: IGF-1 and CLOCK. I documented intermediate functional allele frequencies in backcrosses compared to parental populations, suggesting the alleles do not confer fitness advantages in backcrosses. Despite lack of evidence for current adaptive introgression, genetic admixture between G. volans and G. sabrinus may provide adaptive potential should these species face more rapid or drastic environmental change in the future. Author Keywords: adaptive introgression, flying squirrel, Glaucomys sabrinus, Glaucomys volans, hybridization, introgression
Habitat loss and fragmentation can disrupt population connectivity, resulting in small, isolated populations and low genetic variability. Understanding connectivity patterns in space and time is critical in conservation and management planning, especially for wide-ranging species in northern latitudes where habitats are becoming increasingly fragmented. Wolverines (Gulo gulo) share similar life history traits observed in large-sized carnivores, and their low resiliency to disturbances limits wolverine persistence in modified or fragmented landscapes - making them a good indicator species for habitat connectivity. In this thesis, I used neutral microsatellite and mitochondrial DNA markers to investigate genetic connectivity patterns of wolverines for different temporal and spatial scales. Population genetic analyses of individuals from North America suggested wolverines west of James Bay in Canada are structured into two contemporary genetic clusters: an extant cluster at the eastern periphery of Manitoba and Ontario, and a northwestern core cluster. Haplotypic composition, however, suggested longstanding differences between the extant eastern periphery and northwestern core clusters. Phylogeographic analyses across the wolverine's Holarctic distribution supported a postglacial expansion from a glacial refugium near Beringia. Although Approximate Bayesian computations suggested a west-to-east stepping-stone divergence pattern across North America, a mismatch distribution indicated a historic bottleneck event approximately 400 generations ago likely influenced present-day patterns of haplotype distribution. I also used an individual-based genetic distance measure to identify landscape features potentially influencing pairwise genetic distances of wolverines in Manitoba and Ontario. Road density and mean spring snow cover were positively associated with genetic distances. Road density was associated with female genetic distance, while spring snow cover variance was associated with male genetic distance. My findings suggest that northward expanding anthropogenic disturbances have the potential to affect genetic connectivity. Overall, my findings suggest that (1) peripheral populations can harbour genetic variants not observed in core populations - increasing species genetic diversity; (2) historic bottlenecks can alter the genetic signature of glacial refugia, resulting in a disjunct distribution of unique genetic variants among contemporary populations; (3) increased temporal resolution of the individual-based genetic distance measure can help identify landscape features associated with genetic connectivity within a population, which may disrupt landscape connectivity. Author Keywords: conservation genetics, Holarctic species, landscape genetics, peripheral population, phylogeography, wolverine
Investigating Ecological Niche Differentiation Among Wild Candids Experiencing Hybridization in Eastern North America
Currently there are large areas of the North American landscape that are occupied by Canis spp. hybrids of several varieties, leading to the logical question as to the genetic structure and ecological function of Canis populations across the continent, and to what extent hybrids reflect contemporary landscapes. This study illustrated patterns of niche differentiation between parental canid species and their hybrids using individual high quality genetic profile and species distribution models to support the intermediate phenotype hypothesis. In general, hybrids demonstrated an intermediate habitat suitability compared to its parental species, across most environmental variables used. A similar trend was observed in the niche metric analysis, where we found that hybrids exhibit intermediate niche breadth, with eastern coyotes and eastern wolves exhibiting the broader and narrower niche, respectively. Our results demonstrate that the intermediate phenotype hypothesis is supported even at a large scale and when involving highly mobile large mammal species. Author Keywords: canid, ecological niche modelling, hybridization, intermediate phenotype, microsatellite genotype, niche differentiation
Phylogeography and Genetic Structuring of Moose (Alces alces) Populations in Ontario, Canada
Moose are an iconic species, known for their large size and impressive antlers. Eight subspecies are classified in circumpolar regions of the planet - four in North America. Two subspecies are similar in shape and size, the north-western moose (Alces alces andersoni) and the eastern moose (Alces alces americana). It was previously believed that these two subspecies meet in northern Ontario. Earlier genetic population studies used a small number of samples from Ontario, primarily in broad studies covering all of North America. A comprehensive genetic study of moose populations in Ontario has not previously been conducted. We examined the genetic diversity and population structure at 10 polymorphic loci using 776 samples from Ontario, as well as outgroups from representative populations – Manitoba/Cape Breton, representing A. a. andersoni, and New Brunswick/Nova Scotia, representing A. a. americana. Results indicated three genetic populations in the province, in north-western Ontario, north-eastern Ontario and south-central Ontario. RST values, compared against both FST and Jost’s D values for phylogenetic analyses, indicated no phylogenetic pattern which suggests no subspeciation present in the province. Population movement patterns in Ontario were studied. Gene flow was estimated using genetic and spatial data. Isolation by distance was only seen within the first distance class of 100 kilometres and then not seen again at further distances, indicating that moose display philopatry. There were very few migrants travelling across the province, with a greater number moving gradually north and west, towards better habitat and food sources. A forensic database in the form of an allele frequency table was created. Three loci showed very low levels of heterozygosity across all three populations. Probability of identity was calculated for the three populations and quantified. Samples with known geographic origins were run against the database to test for sensitivity, with identification of origin occurring at an accuracy level between 87 and 100%. Within Ontario, there are not two different subspecies, as previously believed, but two different populations of the same subspecies meeting in northern Ontario. The genetic data does not support previous research performed in Ontario. The sample sizes in our research also provide a more comprehensive view of the entire province not seen in any previous studies. The comprehensive research enabled the building of a reliable forensic database that can be used for both management and forensic purposes for the entire province. Author Keywords: Alces alces, Genetic Diversity, Moose, Ontario, Phylogeography, Subspecies
Adaptive Genetic Markers Reveal the Biological Significance and Evolutionary History of Woodland Caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) Ecotypes
Migratory and sedentary ecotypes are phenotypic distinctions of woodland caribou. I explored whether I could distinguish between these ecotypes in Manitoba and Ontario using genetic signatures of adaptive differentiation. I anticipated that signatures of selection would indicate genetic structure and permit ecotype assignment of individuals. Cytochrome-b, a functional portion of the mitochondrial genome, was tested for evidence of adaptation using Tajima’s D and by comparing variations in protein physiology. Woodland caribou ecotypes were compared for evidence of contemporary adaptive differentiation in relation to mitochondrial lineages. Trinucleotide repeats were also tested for differential selection between ecotypes and used to assign individuals to genetic clusters. Evidence of adaptive variation in the mitochondrial genome suggests woodland caribou ecotypes of Manitoba and Ontario corresponded with an abundance of functional variation. Woodland caribou ecotypes coincide with genetic clusters, and there is evidence of adaptive differentiation between migratory caribou and certain sedentary populations. Previous studies have not described adaptive variation in caribou using the methods applied in this study. Adaptive differences between caribou ecotypes suggest selection may contribute to the persistence of ecotypes and provides new genetic tools for population assessment. Author Keywords: Adaptation, Cytochrome-B, Ecotype, RANGIFER TARANDUS CARIBOU, Selection, TRINUCLEOTIDE REPEAT
Testing for Interspecific Hybridization and a Latitudinal Cline Within the Clock Gene Per1 of the Deer Mouse (Peromyscus maniculatus) and the White-Footed Mouse (Peromyscus leucopus)
The recent northward expansion of the white-footed mouse (Peromyscus leucopus) in response to climatic changes provides a natural experiment to explore potential adaptive genetic variation within the clock gene Per1 in Peromyscus undergoing latitudinal shifts, as well as, the possibility of hybridization and introgression related to novel secondary contact with its sister species the deer mouse (Peromyscus maniculatus). Because clock genes influence the timing of behaviors critical for survival, variations in genotype may reflect an organism’s ability to persist in different environments. Hybridization followed by introgression may increase the adaptive potential of a species by quickly generating adaptive variation through novel genetic recombination or by the transfer of species-specific alleles that have evolved in response to certain environments. In chapter 2, I used microsatellite and mtDNA markers to test for hybridization and introgression between P. maniculatus and P. leucopus and found that interbreeding is occurring at a low frequency (<1%). In chapter 3, I tested for a latitudinal cline in a polyglycine repeat located within the Per1 gene of Peromyscus and discovered a putative cline in the Per1-142 and Per1-157 allele of P. leucopus and P. maniculatus, respectively. Chapter 4, further expands upon these findings, limitations, and the lack of evidence supporting introgression at the Per1 locus. Despite this lack of evidence, it is possible that novel hybridization has or could lead to adaptive introgression of other genes, allowing for the exchange of adaptive alleles or traits that could be advantageous for range expansion and adaption to future environmental changes. Author Keywords: Clock genes, Hybridization, Latitudinal gradient, Per1, Peromyscus, Range Expansion
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
Natural antisense transcripts to nucleus-encoded mitochondrial genes are linked to Ustilago maydis teliospore dormancy
Ustilago maydis is a basidiomycete smut fungus and the causal agent of common smut of corn. Disease progression and fungal development in this pathogen occur in planta, terminating in the production of dormant teliospores. Dormant spores of many fungi are characterized by reduced metabolic activity, which is restored during spore germination. The transition out of dormancy requires the rapid translation of stored mRNAs, which may be stabilized through natural antisense transcript (NAT)-mediated mechanisms. Transcript analysis revealed that as-ssm1, a NAT to the mitochondrial seryl-tRNA synthetase (ssm1), is detected in the dormant teliospore and absent in haploid cells. Disruption of ssm1 leads to cell lysis, indicating it is essential for cellular viability. Presented data supports the hypothesis that as-ssm1 has a role in facilitating teliospore dormancy through stabilizing ssm1 transcripts, which reduces mitochondrial function. as-ssm1 expression during in planta development begins 10 days post-infection, coinciding with the first appearance of dormant teliospores. To assess the impact of as-ssm1 expression on cell division, virulence and mitochondrial function, as-ssm1 was ectopically expressed in haploid cells, leading to increased ssm1 transcript levels and the formation of double-stranded RNA. These expression mutants are characterized by attenuated growth rate, virulence, mitochondrial membrane potential and oxygen consumption. Together, these findings support a role for NATs in moderating mitochondrial function during the onset of teliospore dormancy. Author Keywords: Dormant teliospore, Mitochondria, mRNA stability, Natural antisense transcripts, Non-coding RNA, Ustilago maydis
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


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