Graduate Theses & Dissertations

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multi-faceted approach to evaluating the detection probability of an elusive snake (Sistrurus catenatus)
Many rare and elusive species have low detection probabilities, thereby imposing unique challenges to monitoring and conservation. Here, we assess the detection probability of the Eastern Massasauga (Sistrurus catenatus) in contrast to a more common and conspicuous species, the Eastern Gartersnake (Thamnophis sirtalis). We found that patterns of detection probability differed between species, wherein S. catenatus was detected less often and under a more specific set of sampling conditions. Correspondingly, detection trials with S. catenatus found a high non-detection rate, while detection trials with artificial models suggest that regional differences in detection probability are driven by variation in population density and habitat use. Our results suggest that current monitoring efforts are not sufficient, and that S. catenatus is frequently undetected. Accordingly, we highlight the importance of species-specific monitoring protocols when monitoring rare and elusive species, and recommend a multi-faceted approach that estimates detection probability and identifies species-specific challenges to monitoring. Author Keywords: detection probability, elusive species, monitoring programs, non-detection, S. catenatus, snakes
Syrphidae (Diptera) of northern Ontario and Akimiski Island, Nunavut
Syrphids, also known as hover flies (Diptera: Syrphidae) are a diverse and widespread family of flies. Here, I report on their distributions from a previously understudied region, the far north of Ontario, as well as Akimiski Island, Nunavut. I used samples collected through a variety of projects to update known range and provincial records for over a hundred species, bringing into clearer focus the distribution of syrphids throughout this region. I also analysed a previously un-tested trap type for collecting syrphids (Nzi trap), and report on results of DNA analysis for a handful of individuals, which yielded a potential new species. Author Keywords: Diptera, Ontario, range extension, Syrphidae
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
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
spatial and temporal distribution of tabanid (Chrysops, Hybomitra and Tabanus) species in the Nakina district of northwestern Ontario
This thesis focused on expanding knowledge of Hybomitra, Chrysops and Tabanus (Diptera: Tabanidae) distributions north of Lake Nipigon, Ontario, in a managed boreal forest. As land use and climate changes accelerate, there is increased pressure to increase knowledge from which to monitor changes. In 2011 and 2012, 8928 individuals representing, 44 species were captured using sweep netting. Major northward range extensions were observed for Chrysops shermani, C. aberrans and Tabanus fairchildi. Smaller range extensions and in-fills were observed for another 15 species. 23 species had exntensions to their previously known seasonal range. C. carbonarius was the only species that showed an extension to both sides of its season. In general, harvested stands had 50% more individuals and 30% greater species richness than younger stands. A possible link between stand age and interspecific competition was identified. Information has been provided to build baseline of species richness, relative abundance and distribution of Tabanid flies. Author Keywords: diptera, distribution, natural history, northern Ontario, species range, tabanid
Distribution of Cluster Fly Species (Pollenia, spp. Diptera
This thesis looks at the genus Pollenia: historically where they were first introduced into Canada and spatially, where they are found now. This project involved me identifying 2211 files, sorted from the 3 years of field specimens obtained in 2011, 2012, 2013. P. pediculata was the most abundant and widespread, yielding 1272 specimens out of 2211, and it was found in all provinces sampled. The previous understanding of all Pollenia specimens as being P. rudis appears to be incorrect both in terms of actual number of species – which is known – and how prevalent it is. P. rudis comprised only 20% of the entire collection. The least common was P. griseotomentosa, occurring as 45 of 2211, or 2%. I found new eight first provincial records: four species in Alberta (P. angustigena, P. labialis, P. rudis, P. vagabunda) , one species for Saskatchewan (P. pediculata), two for New Brunswick (P. griseotomentosa, P. labialis), and one for Nova Scotia (P. labialis). P. labialis was new to three provinces, the other species to one province each. Author Keywords: Calliphoridae, Canada, Cluster Fly, Distribution, Pollenia, Provincial Records
Population Genetics and Scarification Requirements of Gymnocladus dioicus
The Kentucky coffee tree (Gymnocladus dioicus) is an endangered tree species native to the American Midwest and Southwestern Ontario. Significant habitat loss and fragmentation due to agricultural, industrial and urban development has caused gradual decline across its native range. The aims of this study were to investigate: (1) patterns of genetic diversity and, (2) genetic differentiation (3) relative levels of sexual vs. clonal reproduction, and (4) potential for reduced genetic diversity at range edge for wild G. dioicus populations. An analysis of variation at nine microsatellite loci from populations in the core of the species distribution in the U.S.A. and 4 regions of Southwestern Ontario indicated that G. dioicus has remarkably high genetic similarity across its range (average pairwise FST= 0.05). Germination trials revealed that the seed coats require highly invasive treatments (e.g. 17.93 mol/L H2SO4) to facilitate imbibition, with negligible germination observed in treatments meant to emulate prevailing conditions in natural populations. Low levels of sexual reproduction, high genetic similarity, and habitat degradation are issues that exist across the entire native range of G. dioicus. Author Keywords:
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
Enhancing post-mortem interval estimates
The growth of immature insects that develop on human remains can be used to estimate a post-mortem interval (PMI). PMI estimate confidence is negatively affected by: larval killing and preservation methods altering their size, limited morphological parameters to assess larval growth and therefore age, and few available alternate species development data. I compared live specimens to preserved specimens of the same development stages to assess the effects of killing-preservation techniques on morphology, and I introduce a new method that uses digital photography to examine maggot mouthparts for stage grading of Phormia regina. Digital photographic methods enable live insects to be quantified and improve approximations of physiological age. I then use these digital methods to produce a growth-rate model for a beetle commonly found on human remains, Necrodes surinamensis, providing data for PMI estimates that was previously unavailable. Author Keywords: Forensic Entomology, Insect development, Morphometrics, Necrodes surinamensis, Phormia regina, Postmortem interval
Intra-seasonal Variation in Black Tern Nest-site Selection and Survival
Resources and risk are in constant flux and an organism’s ability to manage change may improve their likelihood of persistence. I examined intra-seasonal variation in nest-site selection and survival of a declining wetland bird, the Black Tern (Chlidonias niger surinamensis). I modelled nest site occupancy and survival of early and late-nesting birds as a function of static and dynamic factors. Early-nesting birds selected nest sites based on the degree and direction of habitat change that occurred over the nesting cycle, while late-nesting birds selected sites based on static conditions near the time of nest-site selection. Nest age had the strongest influence on daily survival rate for both early and late-nesting birds, but the shape of this relationship showed intra-seasonal differences. Additionally, early-season survival improved slightly with increasing vegetation coverage and distance between conspecific nests, while late-season survival increased with clutch size. My results suggest that intra-seasonal variation in nest-site selection and survival is driven by changing habitat conditions and predator behavior. Author Keywords: Black Tern, Chlidonias niger surinamensis, daily survival rate, intra-seasonal variation, nest-site selection
Using DNA Barcoding to Investigate the Diet and Food Supply of a Declining Aerial Insectivote, the Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica)
Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) populations have declined in North America over the past 40 years and they are listed as Threatened in Ontario, Canada. Changes in the food supply have been hypothesized as a potential cause of this population decline. I used DNA barcoding to investigate the diet and food supply of Barn Swallows and to determine if the food supply affects their reproductive performance. In two breeding seasons, I monitored nests, collected fecal samples, and monitored prey availability by collecting insects from the habitat surrounding breeding sites using Malaise traps. I used DNA barcoding to identify insect specimens collected from the habitat and to identify prey items from Barn Swallow nestling fecal samples. I found that Barn Swallow nestlings were fed a very broad range of prey items but were fed larger prey items more frequently. Prey availability was not related to the timing of reproduction, the number of nests at a breeding site, or the reproductive output of individual nests. This study provides information on the diet composition of Barn Swallows in North America and suggests that food limitation during the breeding season may not be a major factor in their population decline. Author Keywords: aerial insectivore, diet, DNA barcoding, Hirundo rustica, metabarcoding, reproductive success
Enhancing forensic entomology applications
The purpose of this thesis is to enhance forensic entomology applications through identifications and ecological research with samples collected in collaboration with the OPP and RCMP across Canada. For this, we focus on blow flies (Diptera: Calliphoridae) and present data collected from 2011-2013 from different terrestrial habitats to analyze morphology and species composition. Specifically, these data were used to: 1) enhance and simplify morphological identifications of two commonly caught forensically relevant species; Phormia regina and Protophormia terraenovae, using their frons-width to head-width ratio as an additional identifying feature where we found distinct measurements between species, and 2) to assess habitat specificity for urban and rural landscapes, and the scale of influence on species composition when comparing urban and rural habitats across all locations surveyed where we found an effect of urban habitat on blow fly species composition. These data help refine current forensic entomology applications by adding to the growing knowledge of distinguishing morphological features, and our understanding of habitat use by Canada’s blow fly species which may be used by other researchers or forensic practitioners. Author Keywords: Calliphoridae, Ecology, Forensic Entomology, Forensic Science, Morphology, Urban

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