Graduate Theses & Dissertations

Aquatic Invertebrate Studies from Two Perspectives
Leaf litter decomposition represents a major pathway for nutrient cycling and carbon flow in aquatic ecosystems, and macroinvertebrates play an important role in the processing of this material. To assess the causes of variable leaf breakdown and nutrient fluxes, I measured decomposition rates and the nutrient release ratios of decomposing leaf material across a broad latitudinal gradient in Ontario boreal lakes which varied in nutrients, temperature, and pH. I examined the effects of macroinvertebrates using inclusion and exclusion bags. Generally, leaves decomposed faster in nutrient-rich, warmer lakes. Macroinvertebrates increased decomposition rates but their effects were relatively small compared to regional effects of nutrients and temperature. In addition, we found differential effects of nutrients and temperature on nutrient release ratios, which were partially determined by the release and retention of N and P. These results indicate that changes in these important environmental lake variables could alter decomposition dynamics in Ontario lakes, with implications for nutrient cycling and the storage of this important external carbon source. I studied the biogeography of predaceous diving beetles (Coleoptera: Dytiscidae) in two remote and understudied regions: the Far North of Ontario, and Akimiski Island, Nunavut. I identified 35 species from northern Ontario, including three first provincial records for Ontario, Acilius athabascae Larson (1975), Hygrotus unguicularis (Crotch 1874), and Nebrioporus depressus (Fabricius 1775). I also documented three significant range extensions and six gap-infills for this region. I collected and identified 16 species from Akimiski Island, Nunavut, which include several first time reports for these species for the Nunavut territory. My collections also extend the known ranges of five species into the Hudson Plains Ecozone. This work provides important baseline information on the distribution of diving beetles for these regions. Author Keywords: biodiversity, Boreal Shield, decomposition, Dytiscidae, ecological stoichiometry, macroinvertebrates
Hydrological and Flooding Effects on Stream Nutrient Levels
Stream solutes are strongly linked to hydrology, and as such, we sought to better understand how hydrology, particularly flooding, influences nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) levels. We used a long-term dataset of monthly water quality samples for many Ontario, Canada, catchments to assess the effects of landscape variables, such as land use and physiography, on the export of nutrients during floods, and to characterize overall concentration-discharge patterns. In general, we found that landscape variables could partially explain the export variation in flood waters, but that the importance of specific variables depended on flood characteristics. We also found that overall concentration-discharge relationships for N and P C were positive, but non-linear, with greater concentrations on the rising limb of the hydrograph depending on the nutrient. With these results, we have identified general patterns between nutrients and hydrology, which will be helpful for managing the ecological effects of flooding. Author Keywords: C-Q relationships, Discharge, Export, Flooding, Nutrients, Thresholds
Stoichiometric food quality affects responses of Daphnia to predator-derived chemical cues
While both resource quality and predator-derived chemical cues can each have profound effects on zooplankton populations and their function in ecosystems, the strength and nature of their interactive effects remain unclear. We conducted laboratory experiments to evaluate how stoichiometric food quality (i.e., algal carbon (C):phosphorus (P) ratios) affects responses of the water flea, Daphnia pulicaria, to predator-derived chemical cues. We compared growth rates, body elemental content, metabolic rates, life history shifts, and survival of differentially P-nourished Daphnia in the presence and absence of chemical cues derived from fish predators. We found effects of predator cues and/or stoichiometric food quality on all measured traits of Daphnia. Exposure to fish cues led to reduced growth and increased metabolic rates, but had little effect on the elemental content of Daphnia. Elevated algal C:P ratios reduced growth and body %P, increased respiration, and increased body %C. Most of the effects of predator cues and algal C:P ratios of Daphnia were non-interactive. In contrast, the declines in daphnid survival and related population growth rates that arose because of poor food quality were amplified in the presence of predator-derived cues. Our results demonstrate that stoichiometric food quality interacts with anti-predator responses of Daphnia, but these effects are trait-dependent and appear connected to animal life-history evolution. Author Keywords: Daphnia, ecological stoichiometry, indirect predator effects, life history, phosphorus, predator-prey relationships
effects of particulate matter on the fate and toxicity of silver nanoparticles
As an emerging contaminant, the antimicrobial agent silver nanoparticles (AgNPs) have been receiving considerable attention to determine their potential effects to aquatic ecosystems. However, estimates of aquatic consumer survivorship and other toxicological endpoints vary considerably among experiments, largely due to the environment in which the test takes place. Throughout this thesis I aim to understand which natural environmental variables impact toxicity to the common aquatic consumer Daphnia. I focus on the effects of particulate matter as it may play a role in animal nutrition as well as interact with AgNPs. I explore particulate matter’s effect on survival in the complex matrices including other natural variables that could impact toxicity. I conduct a series of complimentary field and laboratory studies to understand how particles impact AgNP toxicity and how those interactions vary within whole lake ecosystems. Using laboratory studies, I establish that algal particles mitigate the toxic effects of AgNPs on Daphnia survival through removing Ag from the water column and that phosphorus increases this effect. Using wild Daphnia and lake water, I demonstrate the ability of particulate matter to mitigate toxicity in complex natural settings. It was also one of the major predictors of AgNP toxicity to Daphnia along with dissolved organic carbon and daphnid seasonal health. Finally, using a whole lake AgNP addition experiment, I demonstrate that particles and AgNPs interact variably in the lake. Silver from AgNPs binds to particles and is removed to the sediments through the actions of settling particles without impacting the dynamics of living communities. Overall, I am able to demonstrate that the natural components of lake ecosystems, especially particulate matter, are able to mitigate the effects of AgNPs in lake ecosystems to a point where they likely will be never pose a threat to the survivorship of aquatic consumers such as Daphnia. Author Keywords: Daphnia, ecotoxicity, particulate matter, Silver nanoparticles, whole lake experiment
Detection of four at-risk freshwater pearly mussel species (Bivalvia
Environmental DNA (eDNA) detection uses species-specific markers to screen DNA from bulk samples, such as water, to infer species presence. This study involved the development and testing of species-specific markers for four freshwater pearly mussels (Unionidae). The markers were applied to water samples from intensively sampled mussel monitoring sites to compare species detections from eDNA with established sampling method detections. Target species were detected using eDNA at all sites where they had previously been detected by quadrat sampling. This paired design demonstrated that eDNA detection was at least as sensitive as quadrat sampling and that high species specificity can be achieved even when designing against many sympatric unionids. Detection failures can impede species conservation efforts and occupancy estimates; eDNA sampling could improve our knowledge of species distributions and site occupancy through increased sampling sensitivity and coverage. Author Keywords: conservation genetics, cytochrome oxidase subunit I (COI), environmental DNA (eDNA), quantitative PCR (qPCR), species at risk (SAR)
Comparison of the Optical Properties of Stratiotes aloids and the Local Plant Community
As part of a mandate to control the spread of Stratiotes aloides (WS; water soldier) in the Trent Severn Waterway, the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) created a management plan to eradicate WS. However, one of the biggest challenges in eradicating WS or any invasive aquatic plant is the ability to estimate the extent of its spread and detect new populations. While current detection methods can provide acceptable detection, these methods often require extensive time and effort. The purpose of this thesis was to assess the use optical properties of WS and WS exudates for detection, in order to improve on current detection methods. The optical properties of WS were sampled at three different sites during three different seasons (spring, summer, and fall) by a) randomly sampling tissue from WS and the local plant community at each site, and recording the reflectance properties in a laboratory setting b) collecting dissolved organic matter (DOM) samples from plant incubations and river water in the field. Significant differences in the reflectance properties of WS were observed among samples from different sites and different sampling times; however, changes in fluorescence properties were only seasonal. Despite spatial differences in WS reflectance; WS was detectable using both hyperspectral and multispectral reflectance. When hyperspectral reflectance was used, significant differences between WS and the local plant community were found in June using two bands (i.e. bands 525 and 535, R 2 = 0.46 and 0.48, respectively). Whereas multispectral reflectance was significant different in October using the coastal and blue band. While WS produced a unique signal using both reflectance types, multispectral reflectance had a greater potential for detection. Its greater potential for detection was due to the reduced noise produced by background optical properties in October in comparison to June. DOM derived from WS was also characterized and compared with whole-river DOM samples in order to find unique markers for WS exudates in river samples. While similarities in DOM concentrations of WS exudates to Trent River water limited the ability to detect WS using compositional data, the ratio of C4/C5 components were compared in order to find components that were proportionally similar. Based on the results of this study multispectral and fluorescence techniques are better suited for the detection of a unique WS signature. The results derived from this work are intended to have practical applications in plant management and monitoring, DOM tracing, as well as remote sensing. Author Keywords: Dissolved organic matter, Hyperspectral reflectance, Invasive species management, Multispectral reflectance, PARAFAC, Stratiotes aloides
An Assessment of Spatial Trends in the Accumulation of Oil Sands Related Metals in the Clearwater River Valley and Temporal Trends in Six Northern Saskatchewan Lakes
The objective of this thesis was to assess current spatial trends and historic trends in the accumulation of trace metals related to the Athabasca Oil Sands Region (AOSR). The AOSR hosts some of the largest industrial developments in Canada, yet relatively little is known about the transport and fate of trace metal emissions from the region – particularly in the relatively remote areas to the east of the AOSR. Lichens are widely used as biomonitors and are employed in this thesis to assess the range of metals deposition within the Clearwater River and Athabasca River Valleys. Lake sediment cores can retain a historical record of the long-range transport and deposition of metals but can also respond to large regional metal emissions sources. This thesis used lake sediment cores to assess temporal trends in metals accumulation in six road accessible lakes in NW Saskatchewan that are likely to be used by local residents. Results show that metal concentrations (V, Co, Cu, Ni, Pb, Zn, Zr and Cd ) in lichen decline exponentially with distance from the AOSR and approach background levels within a few kilometers . Results from lake sediment cores show that there was no evidence that metal concentrations had increased due to industrial activities in the AOSR. Author Keywords: Air Emissions, Lakes, Lichens, Oil Sands, Saskatchewan, Trace Metals
regional comparison of the structure and function of benthic macroinvertebrate communities within Precambrian Shield and St. Lawrence lowland lakes in south-central Ontario
Benthic macroinvertebrtes (BMI) are functionally important in aquatic ecosystems; as such, knowledge of their community structure and function is critical for understanding these systems. BMI were sampled from ten lakes in each of two regions of south-central Ontario to investigate which chemical and physical variables could be shaping their community structure and function. Ten Precambrian Shield lakes in the Muskoka-Haliburton region, and ten St Lawrence lowland lakes in the Kawartha lakes region were sampled. These lakes are geologically and chemically distinct, creating natural chemical and physical gradients within and between both regions. Community function was assessed using stable isotope analysis to elucidate carbon transfer dynamics (δ13C) and food web interactions (δ15N). It was predicted that the BMI from Shield lakes would have a δ13C signature indicative of allochthonous carbon subsidies, whereas the lowland lake BMI signatures would reflect autochthonous production. Additionally, it was predicted that the food web length (measured in δ15N units) would be different in Shield and lowland lakes. Both of these predictions were supported; however, the data indicate that δ13C signatures are more likely influenced by catchment geology (represented by bicarbonate concentration) than the extent of allochthony. The best predictor of food web length was found to be region. To assess BMI community structure, taxonomic richness, %EPT (% Ephemeroptera, Plecoptera, Trichoptera; a water quality index), and distribution of functional feeding groups were examined. Based on chemistry it was expected that the Shield lakes would be more speciose, and of greater water quality (relatively lower nutrient levels). These predictions were rejected; since there were no significant regional differences in taxonomic richness or biologically inferred water quality (%EPT). However, sediment size was found to best explain the variability in both metrics, with greater richness and %EPT found at sites with medium and small substrates than those with large substrates. Significant regional differences were found in the distribution of functional feeding groups. Most notably, there were significantly greater proportions of scrapers and shredders in the lowland and Shield lakes, respectively. Based on the feeding mechanisms of these invertebrates it can be inferred that allochthonous subsidies are likely of greater importance to Shield lake BMI communities than those of the lowland lakes; supporting the carbon transfer prediction. These findings provide insight about the structure and function of BMI communities from two dominant lake types in Ontario, and could be useful when determining how future chemical and physical changes will impact these communities. Author Keywords: benthic macroinvertebrates, community function, community structure, Precambrian Shield, stable isotopes, St. Lawrence lowlands
Effects of Silver Nanoparticles on Lake Bacterioplankton
Silver nanoparticles (AgNP) released into aquatic environments could threaten natural bacterial communities and ecosystem services they provide. We examined natural lake bacterioplankton communities' responses to different exposures (pulse vs chronic) and types (citrate and PVP) of AgNPs at realistic environmental conditions using a mesocosm study at the Experimental Lakes Area. An in situ bioassay examined interactions between AgNPs and phosphorus loading. Bacterial communities exposed to high AgNP concentrations regardless of exposure or capping agent type accumulated silver. We observed increases in community production during additions of polyvinylpyrrolidone (PVP) -capped AgNPs and that site and nutrient-specific conditions are important to AgNPs toxicology in aquatic systems. Toxicological effects of AgNP are attenuated in natural conditions and differ from results from laboratory studies of AgNP toxicity. Our results demonstrate more studies are needed to fully assess the risk posed by these novel chemicals to the environment. This work could be useful in forming risk assessment policies which are largely based on lab studies and typically demonstrate strong toxic effects. Author Keywords: bacterial production, bacterioplankton communities, ecological stoichiometry, Experimental Lakes Area, mesocosms, silver nanoparticles

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