Graduate Theses & Dissertations


Assessing effects and fate of environmental contaminants in invasive, native, and endangered macrophytes
Macrophytes play an important role in aquatic ecosystems, and thus are integral to ecological risk assessments of environmental contaminants. In this dissertation, I address gaps in the assessments of contaminant fate and effects in macrophytes, with focus on glyphosate herbicide use for invasive plant control. First, I evaluated the suitability of Typha as future standard test species to represent emergent macrophytes in risk assessments. I concluded that Typha is ecologically relevant, straight-forward to grow, and its sensitivity can be assessed with various morphological and physiological endpoints. Second, I assessed effects from glyphosate (Roundup WeatherMAX® formulation) spray drift exposure on emergent non-target macrophytes. I performed toxicity tests with five taxa, Phragmites australis, Typha × glauca, Typha latifolia, Ammannia robusta, and Sida hermaphrodita, which in Canada collectively represent invasive, native, and endangered species. I found significant differences in glyphosate sensitivity among genera, and all species’ growth was adversely affected at concentrations as low as 0.1% (0.54 g/L), much below the currently used rate (5%, 27 g/L). Third, I assessed the potential for glyphosate accumulation in and release from treated plant tissues. I found that P. australis and T. × glauca accumulate glyphosate following spray treatment, and that accumulated glyphosate can leach out of treated plant tissues upon their submergence in water. Finally, I assessed effects of released glyphosate on non-target macrophytes. I found that P. australis and T. × glauca leachate containing glyphosate residues can stimulate the germination and seedling growth of T. latifolia, but can exert an inhibiting effect on A. robusta, although leachate without glyphosate caused similar responses in both plants. Additionally, I found no negative effects in A. robusta when exposed to glyphosate residues in surface water, or when grown with rhizosphere contact to an invasive plant that was wicked (touched) with glyphosate. My results show that non-target macrophytes can be at risk from glyphosate spray for invasive plant control, but risks can be mitigated through informed ecosystem management activities, such as targeted wick-applications or removing plant litter. Integrating contaminant fate and effect assessments with emergent macrophytes into ecological risk assessments can support the protection of diverse macrophyte communities. Author Keywords: Ecosystem management, Ecotoxicology, Glyphosate, Herbicide, Invasive plant, Species at risk
Landscape fitness
Variation in habitat quality and disturbance levels can strongly influence a species’ distribution, leading to spatial variation in population density and influencing population dynamics. It is therefore critical to understand how density can lead to variability in demographic responses for effective conservation and recovery of species. My dissertation illustrates how density and spatial familial networks can be integrated together to gain a better understanding of the influence of density on population dynamics of boreal caribou. First, I created an analytical framework to assess results from empirical studies to inform spatially-explicit capture-recapture sampling design, using both simulated and empirical data from noninvasive genetic sampling of several boreal caribou populations in Alberta, Canada, which varied in range size and estimated population density. Analysis of the empirical data indicated that reduced sampling intensity had a greater impact on density estimates in smaller ranges, and the best sampling designs did not differ with estimated population density but differed between large and small population ranges. Secondly, I used parent-offspring relationships to construct familial networks of boreal caribou in Saskatchewan, Canada to inform recovery efforts. Using network measures, I assessed the contribution of individual caribou to the population with several centrality measures and then determined which measures were best suited to inform on the population demographic structure. I found substantial differences in the centrality of individuals in different local areas, highlighting the importance of analyzing familial networks at different spatial scales. The network revealed that boreal caribou in Saskatchewan form a complex, interconnected familial network. These results identified individuals presenting different fitness levels, short- and long-distance dispersing ability across the range, and can be used in support of population monitoring and recovery efforts. Finally, I used a spatial capture-recapture analytical framework with covariates to estimate spatial density of boreal woodland caribou across the Saskatchewan Boreal Plains, and then reconstructed parent-offspring relationships to create a familial network of caribou and determined whether spatial density influenced sex-specific network centrality, dispersal distance, individual reproductive success, and the pregnancy status of females. I show that caribou densitygreatly varied across the landscape and was primarily affected by landscape composition and fragmentation, and density had sex-specific influences on dispersal distance, reproductive success, and network centrality. The high density areas reflected good-quality caribou habitat, and the decreased dispersal rates and female reproductive output suggest that these remnant patches of habitat may be influencing demographic responses of caribou. Author Keywords: boreal caribou, density, familial networks, population dynamics, rangifer tarandus caribou, spatial capture-recapture
Using genomic and phenotypic data to explore the evolution and ecology of the North American mountain goat
Evaluating the impact of climate change is arguably one of the main goals of conservation biology, which can be addressed in part by studying the demographic history of species in the region of interest. In North America, landscape and species composition during the most recent Pleistocene epoch was primarily influenced by glaciation cycles. Glacial advance and retreat caused species ranges to shift as well, leaving signatures of past population bottlenecks in the genetic code of most species. Genomic tools have shown to be important tools for understanding these demographic events to enhance conservation biology measures in several species. In my thesis I first reviewed the state of ungulate genomics, with a focus on how such data sets can be used in understand demography, adaptation, and inform conservation and management. Importantly, the review introduces key analyses like the pairwise sequentially Markovian coalescent and features like variation in antlers and horns and selection pressures that are used throughout subsequent chapters. Using the North American mountain goat as a model species, I then explored the genomic and phenotypic variation in this alpine specialist mammal. Starting with the generation of the first genome assembly for the mountain goat, I identified genes unique to the mountain goat and modeled demographic history going back millions of years using a pairwise sequentially Markovian coalescent approach. Species’ effective population size generally paralleled climatic trends over the past one hundred thousand years and severely declined to under a thousand individuals during the last glacial maximum. Given the biological importance of horns in mountain goats and the recent scientific interest in genetic basis of headgear, I analyzed over 23,000 horn records from goats harvested in British Columbia, Alaska and Northwest Territories from 1980 to 2017. Overall, variation in horn size over space and time was low; goats harvested further North had shorter horn lengths and smaller horn circumferences in one year old and 4 years and older age classes and 4 years and older age class, respectively. Proximity of roads, which was used as an indicator of artificial selection, had a small effect on horn size, with larger horns being harvested closer to major roads. Finally, I used two range-wide genomic data sets sequenced with a whole genome re-sequencing and reduced representation approaches to provide estimates of genetic diversity, contemporary effective population sizes and population structure. These insights can help inform management and will potentially make an impact in preserving the mountain goat. Author Keywords: genome assembly, horn size, Oreamnos americanus, population demography, reduced representation sequencing, whole genome resequencing
Combining Line Transect Sampling and Photographic-Identification Surveys to Investigate the Abundance and Distribution of Cetaceans
Line transect sampling and photographic-identification (photo-ID) are common survey techniques for estimating the abundance and distribution of cetaceans. Combining these approaches in the field (‘combined LTPI’ surveys) and using data from both components has the potential for generating comprehensive ecological knowledge that can be far more valuable than when these techniques and their data are used independently. In this thesis, I evaluated the results and conclusions from these two methods, used singly and in tandem, by investigating the population dynamics of two humpback dolphin (Sousa chinensis spp.) populations: the large and widely distributed Chinese white dolphin (S. c. chinensis) of the Pearl River estuary (PRE), and the small and geographically isolated subspecies of Taiwanese white dolphin (S. c. taiwanensis) in the eastern Taiwan Strait. Data from combined LTPI surveys in Hong Kong waters, at the eastern edge of the PRE, revealed a shift in space use with individuals spending less time in these waters than at the start of surveys. Data from combined LTPI surveys in Taiwan provided further support for a subspecies restricted to the central western waters, and identified a commonly used area at the northern part of their limited range. These two case studies demonstrated an overall efficacy of combined LTPI surveys in ecological studies of cetaceans. However, a multi-criteria analysis revealed that combined LTPI surveys with a line transect focus (e.g., Hong Kong) performed better than a LTPI survey with a photo-ID focus (e.g., Taiwan) when considering ecological aspects of the study populations, labour and data requirements, and ecological output. Even so, the photo-ID focus of Taiwan’s monitoring program led to better assessments of individual space use patterns, likely helped by the Taiwanese white dolphin population’s smaller size and intensive photographic effort. In both cases, the ecological output of combined LTPI surveys could be improved by expanding the study area or extending the field season or frequency of surveys. Overall, I showed that by following a set of general guidelines, different iterations of the combined LTPI approach (i.e., photo-ID focus or LT focus) can serve as powerful tools for uncovering multi-dimensional ecological information on cetaceans. Author Keywords: abundance, cetacean, distribution, line transect sampling, multi-criteria analysis, Photo-ID
Automated Separation and Preconcentration of Ultra-Trace Levels of Radionuclides in Complex Matrices by Online Ion Exchange Chromatography Coupled with Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry (ICP-MS)
Radionuclides occur in the environment both naturally and artificially. Along with weapons testing and nuclear reactor operations, activities such as mining, fuel fabrication and fuel reprocessing are also major contributors to nuclear waste in the environment. In terms of nuclear safety, the concentration of radionuclides in nuclear waste must be monitored and reported before storage and/or discharge. Similarly, radionuclide waste from mining activities also contains radionuclides that need to be monitored. In addition, a knowledge of ongoing radionuclide concentrations is often required under certain ‘special’ conditions, for example in the area surrounding nuclear and mining operations, or when nuclear and other accidents occur. Thus, there is a huge demand for new methods that are suitable for continuously monitoring and rapidly analyzing radionuclide levels, especially in emergency situations. In this study, new automated analytical methods were successfully developed to measure ultra trace levels of single or multiple radionuclides in various environmental samples with the goal of faster analysis times and less analyst involvement while achieving detection limits suitable for typical environmental concentrations. Author Keywords: automation, ICP-MS, ion exchange, radionuclide
effects of heat dissipation capacity on avian physiology and behaviour
In endotherms, physiological functioning is optimized within a narrow range of tissue temperatures, meaning that the capacity to dissipate body heat is an important parameter for thermoregulation and organismal performance. Yet, experimental research has found mixed support for the importance of heat dissipation capacity as a constraint on reproductive performance. To investigate the effects of heat dissipation capacity on organismal performance, I experimentally manipulated heat dissipation capacity in free-living tree swallows, Tachycineta bicolor, by trimming feathers overlying the brood patch, and monitored parental provisioning performance, body temperature, and offspring growth. I found that individuals with an enhanced capacity to dissipate body heat (i.e., trimmed treatment) provisioned their offspring more frequently, and reared larger offspring that fledged more consistently. Although control birds typically reduced their nestling provisioning rate at the highest ambient temperatures to avoid overheating, at times they became hyperthermic. Additionally, I examined inter-individual variation in body temperature within each treatment, and discovered that body temperature is variable among all individuals. This variability is also consistent over time (i.e., is repeatable), irrespective of treatment. Further, I found that individuals consistently differed in how they adjusted their body temperature across ambient temperature, demonstrating that body temperature is a flexible and repeatable physiological trait. Finally, I used a bacterial endotoxin (lipopolysaccharide) to examine the regulation of body temperature of captive zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata) during an immune challenge. Exposure to lipopolysaccharide induces sickness behaviours, and results in a fever, hypothermia, or a combination of the two, depending on species and dosage. I asked what the relative role of different regions of the body (bill, eye region, and leg) is in heat dissipation/retention during the sickness-induced body temperature response. I found that immune-challenged individuals modulated their subcutaneous temperature primarily through alterations in peripheral blood flow, particularly in the legs and feet, detectable as a drop in surface temperature. These results demonstrate that the importance of regional differences in regulating body temperature in different contexts. Taken together, my thesis demonstrates that heat dissipation capacity can affect performance and reproductive success in birds. Author Keywords: body temperature, heat dissipation, tree swallow, zebra finch
Surface temperature regulation during stress exposure
The influence of stress exposure on the body temperature of vertebrates has been known for nearly two-thousand years. While the proximate mechanisms supporting this phenomenon are well described, the ultimate mechanisms remain enigmatic. In this thesis, I propose a novel hypothesis which states that changes in body surface temperature (henceforth "surface temperature") following stress exposure occur to reduce energetic expenditure toward thermoregulation, thus freeing energy for use in the stress response (hereafter, the "Thermoprotective Hypothesis"). Using a paired experimental design, I first show that black-capped chickadees (Poecile atricapillus, Linnaeus, 1766) exposed to repeated stressors decrease their surface temperatures at low ambient temperatures, and increase their surface temperatures at high ambient temperatures relative to unstressed controls. These changes in surface temperature contribute to a relative reduction in heat loss in the cold, and a relative increase in heat dissipation in the warmth among stress-exposed individuals, thus reducing their energetic demands toward more costly thermoregulatory strategies. Next, I show that stress-induced changes in surface temperature are most pronounced in chickadees that experience naturally-occurring resource-restrictions, suggesting that this response occurs to balance allocation of energy among the stress response and thermoregulation (i.e. a true energetic trade-off ). Third, I show that the magnitudes of chronic, stress-induced changes in surface temperature are highly variable among, and highly consistent within, chickadees, therefore suggesting that this response could hold adaptive significance if such variation among individuals is heritable. Finally, using domestic pigeons (Columba livia domestica, Gmelin, 1789) as a model species, I show that stress-induced changes in surface temperature are highly pronounced at bare tissues with a critical role in thermoregulation for some avian species (the bill), when compared with responses at surrounding bare tissues (the eye region). Together, these findings strongly support the Thermoprotective Hypothesis and suggest that endotherms may trade energetic investment toward thermoregulation with that toward the stress response in resource-limiting environments. Author Keywords: heat transfer, infrared thermography, stress physiology, surface temperature, thermoregulation, trade-off
Ecosystem Response to Above Canopy Nitrogen Addition in a Jack Pine (Pinus banksiana) Forest in the Athabasca Bituminous Sands Region of Northeastern Alberta, Canada
In this study we seek to better understand the potential effects of short-term (5-year) N fertilization on jack pine forest biogeochemistry, vascular plant community composition and to project a temporal endpoint of nitrogen leaching below the major rooting zone. Aqueous ammonium nitrate (NH4NO3) was applied above the forest canopy across five treatment plots (20 x 80 m) four times annually. The experimental deposition gradient followed those known for localized areas around the major open pit operations at 0, 5, 10, 15, 20 and 25 kg N ha-1 yr-1 over a five-year period (2011 – 2015). Nitrate recovery in throughfall was significantly higher than NH4+ (p < 0.05), indicating canopy NH4+ immobilization. There was a strong treatment effect (p < 0.05) of N on the epiphytic lichen thalli concentrations of Hypogymnia physodes and Evernia mesomorpha after five years. The canopy appeared to approach saturation at the highest deposition load (25 kg N ha-1 yr-1) during the fifth year of N additions as most N added above the canopy was accounted for in throughfall and stemflow. The non-vascular (lichen and moss) vegetation pool above the forest floor was the largest receptor of N as cryptogam foliar and thalli N concentrations showed a significant treatment effect (p < 0.05). Nitrogen in decomposing litter (25 kg N ha-1 yr-1) remained immobilized after five years, while treatments ≤ 20 kg N ha-1 yr-1 started to mobilize. Understory vascular plant cover expansion was muted when deposition was ≥ 10 kg N ha-1 yr-1. Finally, modeling suggests the forest may not leach N below the rooting zone until around 50 years after chronic addition begin (25 kg N ha-1 yr-1). The modeling results are consistent with empirical data from a high exposure (~20 - 25 kg N ha-1 yr-1) jack pine site approximately 12 km west of the experimental site that has not yet experienced N leaching. Author Keywords: Biogeochemistry, Canopy, Deposition, Jack Pine, Nitrogen, Understory
Biogeography of Carabidae (Coleoptera) in the Boreal forest
Basic biogeographic information is lacking for many species, such as where species are found, and how they dispersed there. Using ground beetles collected during 2008-2015 from across northern Ontario and Akimiski Island, Nunavut, I present new information on ground beetle distribution in this eastern Nearctic boreal forest, including 2 first Canadian records, 9 first provincial and 48 first territorial records, as well as 74 new records that extend the known range of many large and common ground beetles several hundred kilometres. I used these distributions to redress the knowledge gap that includes fundamental distribution data, i.e. the Wallacean shortfall, and to inform later chapters in my thesis.In Chapter 3, I examine the range expansion pattern of Carabus granulatus, a non-native species, as it spread across northeastern North America and I provide a new range record. Northern Ontario is already under threat from non-native species entering the region and it is important to conduct studies in the region before more disturbance associated with development occurs. In Chapter 4, I examine the hypothesis that northern Ontario effectively acts as a climate plateau for poikilotherms, using the predictions from Bergmann's rule as my metric. The body length of ground beetles does not appear to change over the small temperature gradient that exists across northern Ontario latitudes, supporting the climate plateau hypothesis. In Chapter 5, I test hypotheses about dispersal mechanisms that contributed to post glacial re-establishment of ground beetles using predictions of geographic distribution patterns as metrics. I found that ground beetles were likely carried downstream by rivers which aided their dispersal northward from southern refugia. I infer from the current geographic distributions that flightless ground beetle species are still expanding their range in this boreal region. Finally, I argue that there is an urgent need for more basic research on species distributions while it is still possible in regions like northern Ontario, before increased industrial and agricultural development, and expanding resource extraction projects obliterate evidence of historic ecological processes. Author Keywords: Boreal forest, Carabidae, Coleoptera, Passive dispersal, Post-glacial distribution, Range extension
collaborative ecotoxicological risk assessment of in-place pollutants in Owen Sound Bay, Lake Huron within the Saugeen Ojibway Nation Territory
Owen Sound Bay, which is located within the traditional territory of the Saugeen Ojibway Nation (SON), is contaminated as a result of historical industrial and shipping activity. Gross contamination of the sediments in the inner part of the Bay (i.e., Owen Sound Harbour) includes high concentrations of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and other organic compounds, as well as metals that may pose a risk to the SON fishery for lake whitefish (Coregonus clupeaformis). However, evaluating the environmental risks posed by contaminated sediments is a challenge, as these risks are dependent upon several factors and require multiple lines of evidence. Including Indigenous communities in environmental risk assessment and the management of those risks is vital for sustaining ecosystem integrity, as well as respecting Treaty Rights. In this study, a risk assessment framework was developed that included several risk assessment tools used in Western science and also encompassed the concerns and values of the SON, including the application of SON-ecological knowledge. Methods for risk evaluation included gathering lines of evidence though community workshops, as well as field sampling in the Bay to determine the concentrations of PAHs and other organic contaminants in sediments and in the water column. Laboratory studies of toxicity to early life stages of lake whitefish and Japanese medaka (Oryzias latipes) and sediment disturbance simulations to evaluate biological responses in juvenile lake whitefish were also completed as lines of evidence. The results indicate that leaving the harbour “as is” without a thorough analysis of remediation options fails to address the concerns of the people within the SON communities. Overall, this research demonstrated a successful process for developing a collaborative risk assessment framework that recognizes the sovereignty of Indigenous peoples and promotes Nation-to-Nation decision making. Author Keywords: biomarkers, Coregonus clupeaformis, Indigenous knowledge, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, risk assessment, source tracking
Population Dynamics of Eastern Coyotes in Southeastern Ontario
The ability of animal populations to compensate for harvest mortality provides the basis for sustainable harvesting. Coyote populations are resilient to exploitation, but the underlying mechanisms of compensation and how they inter-relate are not fully understood. Moreover, deficiencies in the quality and quantity of information about eastern coyotes preclude effective management. I combined field work, laboratory work, and genetic profiling to investigate the population dynamics of eastern coyotes in southeastern Ontario. Specifically, I conducted research on coyotes during 2010–2013 in Prince Edward County where coyote hunting and trapping seasons were open all year. First, I investigated their social status dynamics and space-use patterns. Transients exhibited extensive space-use relative to residents, potentially encountering vacant territories and/or breeding positions, and some transients became residents, potentially filling vacant territories and/or breeding positions. Accordingly, the study population demonstrated the potential to compensate for harvest mortality via source-sink dynamics and/or buffering reproductive capacity. Second, I investigated their survival and cause-specific mortality. Residents exhibited greater survival than transients, probably partly because of the benefits of holding a territory, and transients seemingly exhibited greater vulnerability to harvest than residents, probably partly because their movements exposed them to greater cumulative mortality risks over time. Accordingly, harvest mortality disproportionately impacted the non-reproductive segment of the study population and thus may have failed to substantially limit reproduction, and thus recruitment. Third, I investigated their reproduction and breeding histories. Females in the study population exhibited age-specific reproductive rates and litter sizes generally typical of those in exploited coyote populations. Accordingly, increased reproductive rates and increased litter sizes may have offset losses due to harvest mortality. There was at least some breeder turnover in the study population due to harvest mortality, but many breeders survived to reproduce for multiple years and those that died were quickly replaced. My findings have important management implications for eastern coyotes and contribute significantly to better understanding of their resilience to harvest. Indiscriminate killing of coyotes through liberal harvest is unlikely to be effective in reducing their abundance. Management strategies should consider non-lethal alternatives and/or targeted lethal control for dealing with problem coyotes. Author Keywords: Canis latrans var., eastern coyotes, population dynamics, Prince Edward County, southeastern Ontario
Assessing Measured and Perceived Risks to Drinking Water Sources
Microcontaminants originating from wastewater effluent and run-off from agricultural lands may be present in the sources of drinking water for rural and Indigenous communities in mixed-use watersheds. In this study, a convergent parallel mixed-methods design was applied to assess measured and perceived risks of contamination in the sources of drinking water for two communities; the Six Nations of the Grand River community in Ontario and the community of Soufriere in St. Lucia, West Indies. The overall goal of the project was to assess how measured and perceived risks of exposure to chemical and biological contaminants in drinking water sources could inform water management strategies for the communities. Quantitative data obtained from the analysis of water samples collected indicated that the highest levels and occurrence of fecal bacteria were found in the Soufriere watershed while the highest concentrations and occurrence of pesticides were found in the Grand River watershed. In the Grand River watershed, conventional treatment of water followed by activated carbon filtration and UV disinfection removed fecal bacteria and also removed many chemical microcontaminants with efficiencies as high as 98%. Data from both watersheds indicated that there was a strong positive correlation between the levels of caffeine and sucralose (i.e. indicators of wastewater contamination) in water samples and the levels of either Total Coliforms or fecal bacteria of human origin. Human health risk assessments of individual pesticides and pesticide mixtures performed by applying a hazard quotient (HQ) and hazard index (HI) model, respectively indicated that there were no apparent risks to human health from those microcontaminants. Qualitative data obtained from face-to-face interviews with water managers and health professionals working in the two communities, which were collected and analysed concurrently but independently, illustrated that there were cross-cultural similarities and differences in factors influencing the perceptions of risks associated with the sources of drinking water. These perceptions of risks were mainly influenced by factors such as heuristics or informal and informal reasoning, cognitive-affective factors, social-political institutions and cultural factors. These factors may have also influenced water managers and health professionals, as they often recommended more “soft” strategies for managing water resources in the communities. Key words: pesticides, fecal bacteria, microcontaminants, POCIS, measured risks, perceived risks, water management, First Nations, Grand River, Soufriere, St. Lucia Author Keywords: fecal bacteria, measured risks, microcontaminants, perceived risks, POCIS, water management


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