Graduate Theses & Dissertations

Fish and invertebrate use of invasive Phragmites in a Great Lakes freshwater delta
Invasive Phragmites australis ssp. australis (herein “Phragmites”) has established and rapidly spread throughout many coastal areas of the Great Lakes. Known to displace native vegetation communities as it forms large, monotypic stands, Phragmites has a bad reputation when it comes to losses of biodiversity and habitat provision for wildlife. However, the extent to which Phragmites provides habitat for fish and invertebrates in coastal freshwater wetlands remains relatively unquantified. Thus, this study assessed whether fish assemblages and invertebrate communities in stands of Phragmites differ from those in stands of two native emergent vegetation communities, Typha spp. and Schoenoplectus spp. The findings showed significant differences in habitat variables among the vegetation communities in terms of water depth, macrophyte species richness, stem density and water quality. While abundance of the functional feeding group filterer-collectors was found to be significantly less in stands of Phragmites when compared to Schoenoplectus, no difference was observed in invertebrate taxa richness among vegetation communities. Lastly, no difference in fish assemblage or invertebrate community was detected when using multivariate analyses, implying that invasive Phragmites provides habitat that appears to be as valuable for fish and invertebrates as other emergent vegetation types in the St. Clair River Delta. The findings of this study will ultimately benefit the literature on invasive Phragmites and its role as fish habitat in freshwater wetlands, and aid management agencies in decisions regarding control of the invasive species. Author Keywords: aquatic invasive species, aquatic macroinvertebrates, freshwater fish, freshwater wetlands, nMDS, Phragmites
Habitat selection by sympatric Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis) and bobcat (Lynx rufus)
Range expansion by the bobcat (Lynx rufus) may be contributing to range contraction by the Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis), but interactions between them are not well understood. To investigate the potential for competition, I conducted a literature review of hierarchical habitat selection by these two species. I determined that the lynx and the bobcat select different resources at the first and second orders, and that the fourth order is under-studied compared to higher orders. I therefore conducted a snow-tracking study of fine-scale habitat selection by lynx and bobcat in an area of sympatry in northern Ontario. I found that the two species selected similar resources at the fourth order, but appeared to be allopatric at the level of the home range. These results suggest that competition is unlikely to occur between lynx and bobcat, and other factors should be considered as more probable causes of the lynx range contraction. Author Keywords: Bobcat, Canada lynx, Competition, Habitat selection, Scale, Snow tracking
Temporo-spatial patterns of occupation and density by an invasive fish in streams
Since its introduction to North America in the 1990s, the Round Goby has spread throughout the Great Lakes, inland through rivers and is now moving into small tributary streams, a new environment for this species in both its native and invaded ranges. I explored density and temporal occupation of Round Gobies in four small streams in two systems in south-central Ontario, Canada in order to determine what habitat variables are the best predictors of goby density. Two streams are tributaries of Lake Ontario and two are tributaries of the Otonabee River, and all of these streams have barriers preventing upstream migration. I found that occupation and density differed between the systems. In the Otonabee River system, Round Gobies occupy the streams year round and the most important factor determining adult density is distance from a barrier to upstream movement, with the entire stream occupied but density highest next to the barriers. In the Lake Ontario system, density is highest at mid-stream and Round Gobies appear to occupy these streams mainly from spring to fall. Adult density in Lake Ontario tributaries is highest in sites with a high percentage of cobble/boulder and low percentage of gravel substrate, while substrate is less important in Otonabee River tributaries. Occupation and density patterns may differ due to contrasting environmental conditions in the source environments and distance to the first barrier preventing upstream movement. This study shows diversity in invasion strategies, and provides insight into the occurrence and movement patterns of this species in small, tributary streams. Author Keywords: biological invasion, Generalised Additive Mixed Model, habitat, Neogobius melanostomus, Round Goby, stream
Do birds of a feather flock together
Populations have long been delineated by physical barriers that appear to limit reproduction, yet increasingly genetic analysis reveal these delineations to be inaccurate. The eastern and mid-continent populations of sandhill cranes are expanding ranges which is leading to convergence and warrants investigation of the genetic structure between the two populations. Obtaining blood or tissue samples for population genetics analysis can be costly, logistically challenging, and may require permits as well as potential risk to the study species. Non-invasively collected genetic samples overcome these challenges, but present challenges in terms of obtaining high quality DNA for analysis. Therefore, methods that optimize the quality of non-invasive samples are necessary. In the following thesis, I examined factors affecting DNA quality and quantity obtained from shed feathers and examined population differentiation between eastern and mid-continent sandhill cranes. I found shed feathers are robust to environmental factors, but feather size should be prioritized to increase DNA quantity and quality. Further, I found little differentiation between eastern and mid-continent populations with evidence of high migration and isolation-by-distance. Thus, the two populations are not genetically discrete. I recommend future population models incorporate migration between populations to enhance our ability to successfully manage and reach conservation objectives. Author Keywords: feathers, genetic differentiation, non-invasive DNA, population genetics, population management, sandhill crane (Antigone canadensis)
Effects of Silver Nanoparticles on Lower Trophic Levels in Aquatic Ecosystems
Due to their effective antibacterial and antifungal properties, silver nanoparticles (AgNPs) have quickly become the most commonly used nanomaterial, with applications in industry, medicine and consumer products. This increased use of AgNPs over the past decade will inevitably result in an elevated release of nanoparticles into the environment, highlighting the importance of assessing the environmental impacts of these nanomaterials on aquatic ecosystems. Although numerous laboratory studies have already reported on the negative effects of AgNPs to freshwater organisms, only a handful of studies have investigated the impacts of environmentally relevant levels of AgNPs on whole communities under natural conditions. This thesis examines the effects of chronic AgNP exposure on natural freshwater littoral microcrustacean, benthic macroinvertebrate and pelagic zooplankton communities. To assess the responses of these communities to AgNPs, I focused on a solely field-based approach, combining a six-week mesocosm study with a three-year whole lake experiment at the IISD – Experimental Lakes Area (Ontario, Canada). Our mesocosm study tested the effects of AgNP concentration (low, medium and high dose), surface coating (citrate- and polyvinylpyrrolidone [PVP]-coated AgNPs), and type of exposure (chronic and pulsed addition) on benthic macroinvertebrates in fine and stony sediments. Relative abundances of metal-tolerant Chironomidae in fine sediments were highest in high dose PVP-AgNP treatments; however, no negative effects of AgNP exposure were seen on biodiversity metrics or overall community structure throughout the study. I observed similar results within the whole lake study that incorporated a long-term addition of low levels of AgNPs to an experimental lake. Mixed-effects models and multivariate methods revealed a decline in all species of the littoral microcrustacean family Chydoridae in the final year of the study within our experimental lake, suggesting that this taxon may be sensitive to AgNP exposure; however, these effects were fairly subtle and were not reflected in the overall composition of littoral communities. No other negative effects of AgNPs were observed on the pelagic zooplankton or benthic macroinvertebrate communities. My results demonstrate that environmentally relevant levels of AgNPs have little impact on natural freshwater microcrustacean and benthic macroinvertebrate communities. Instead, biodiversity metrics and community structure are primarily influenced by seasonal dynamics and nutrient concentrations across both lakes. This thesis highlights the importance of incorporating environmental conditions and the natural variability of communities when examining the potential risks posed by the release of AgNPs into the environment, as simplistic laboratory bioassays may not provide an adequate assessment of the long-term impacts of AgNPs on freshwater systems. Author Keywords: Benthic macroinvertebrates, IISD - Experimental Lakes Area, Littoral microcrustaceans, Silver nanoparticles, Whole lake experiment, Zooplankton
cascading effects of risk in the wild
Predation risk can elicit a range of responses in prey, but to date little is known about breadth of potential responses that may arise under realistic field conditions and how such responses are linked, leaving a fragmented picture of risk-related consequences on individuals. We increased predation risk in free-ranging snowshoe hares (Lepus americanus) during two consecutive summers by simulating natural chases using a model predator (i.e., domestic dog), and monitored hare stress physiology, energy expenditure, behaviour, condition, and habitat use. We show that higher levels of risk elicited marked changes in physiological stress metrics including sustained high levels of free plasma cortisol which had cascading effects on glucose, and immunology, but not condition. Risk-augmented hares also had lowered daily energy expenditure, spent more time foraging, and decreased rest, vigilance, and travel. It is possible that these alterations allowed risk-exposed hares to increase their condition at the same rate as controls. Additionally, risk-augmented hares selected, had high fidelity to, and were more mobile in structurally dense habitat (i.e., shrubs) which provided them additional cover from predators. They also used more open habitat (i.e., conifer) differently based on locale within the home range, using familiar conifer areas within cores for rest while moving through unfamiliar conifer areas in the periphery. Overall, these findings show that prey can have a multi-faceted, highly plastic response in the face of risk and can mitigate the effects of their stress physiology given the right environmental conditions. Author Keywords: behaviour, condition, daily energy expenditure, predator-prey interactions, snowshoe hare, stress physiology

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