Graduate Theses & Dissertations

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Population Genetics and Gut Microbiome Composition Reveal Subdivisions and Space Use in a Generalist and Specialist Ungulate
Natural populations are often difficult and costly to study, due to the plethora of confounding processes and variables present. This is of particular importance when dealing with managed species. Ungulates, for example, act as both consumers and prey sources; they also provide economic benefit through harvest, and as such, are of high ecological and economic value. I addressed conservation and management concerns by quantifying subdivision in wild populations and combined movement with non-invasive sampling to provide novel insight on the physiological drivers of space use in multiple species. This thesis explored biological patterns in ungulates using two distinct approaches: the first used molecular genetics to quantify gene flow, while the second examined the relationship between movement and the gut microbiome using high-throughput sequencing and GPS tracking. The goal of the first chapter was to quantify gene flow and assess the population structure of mountain goats (Oreamnos americanus) in northern British Columbia (BC) to inform management. I used microsatellites to generate genotype data and used a landscape genetics framework to evaluate the possible drivers behind genetic differentiation. The same analyses were performed at both a broad and fine scale, assessing genetic differentiation between populations in all of northern BC and in a case management study area northeast of Smithers BC. The results indicated panmixia among mountain goats regardless of scale, suggesting distance and landscape resistance were minimally inhibiting gene flow. Therefore, management at local scales can continue with little need for genetically informed boundaries, but regulations should be tailored to specific regions incorporating data on local access and harvest pressure. My second chapter aimed to determine the extent to which the gut microbiome drives space-use patterns in a specialist (mountain goat) and generalist (white-tailed deer, Odocoileus virginianus) ungulate. Using fecal samples, we generated genomic data using 16S rRNA high-throughput sequencing to evaluate gut diversity and gut microbiome characteristics. Additionally, individuals were fitted with GPS collars so that we could gain insight into movement patterns. Gut microbiome metrics were stronger predictors of space use and movement patterns with respect to home range size, whereas they were weaker predictors of habitat use. Notably, factors of both the gut microbiome and age of a given species were correlated with changes in space use and habitat use. Ultimately, this research linked high-throughput sequencing and GPS data to better understand ecological processes in wild ungulates. Author Keywords: gene flow, genomics, gut microbiome, home range, population genetic structure, ungulates
Assessment of Potential Threats to Eastern Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida) in Southern Ontario
In Canada, eastern flowering dogwood (Cornus florida L.) is an endangered tree that occurs only in the Carolinian forest of southern Ontario. Threats to this species include habitat fragmentation and the fungal pathogen dogwood anthracnose (Discula destructiva). I conducted a population genetic analysis using seven nuclear microsatellite markers to determine if fragmented populations are genetically isolated from one another and have low levels of genetic diversity. Genetic comparisons suggest on-going dispersal among sites and relatively high genetic diversity within most sites; however, smaller populations and younger trees were less genetically diverse. I also used linear mixed effects models to assess potential relationships between several ecological variables and the prevalence of dogwood anthracnose. Disease severity was higher in trees on shallow slopes and in larger trees; the latter also had higher likelihood of infection. Insights from this study will be important to incorporate into future management strategies. Author Keywords: Cornus florida, Discula destructiva, dogwood anthracnose, Eastern flowering dogwood, endangered, population genetics
Effects of Local, Landscape, and Temporal Variables on Bobolink Nest Survival in Southern Ontario
Populations of grassland birds, including the Bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus), are experiencing steep declines due to losses of breeding habitat, land use changes, and agricultural practices. Understanding the variables affecting reproductive success can aid conservation of grassland species. I investigated 1) whether artificial nest experiments accurately estimate the impacts of cattle on the daily survival rate of Bobolink nests and 2) which local, landscape, and temporal variables affect daily survival rate of Bobolink nests in Southern Ontario. I replicated an artificial nest experiment performed in 2012 and 2015 to compare the daily survival rate of artificial and natural nests at multiple stocking rates (number of cattle × days × ha-1). I also monitored Bobolink nests and modeled daily survival rate using local variables (e.g., stocking rate, field use, patch area), landscape variables (e.g., percent forest within 2, 5, and 10 km), and temporal variables (e.g., year, date of season). Results indicate that artificial nest experiments using clay shooting targets overestimated the impacts of stocking rate on the daily survival rate of Bobolink nests. With natural nests, region (confounded by year and field use), stocking rate, and date of season were the strongest predictors of daily survival rate; with stocking rate and date of season both having a negative effect. Management should focus on conserving pastures with low stocking rates (< 40 cattle × days × ha-1), late-cut hayfields, fallow fields, and other grasslands to protect breeding grounds for the Bobolink and other declining grassland bird species. Author Keywords: Bobolink, Daily survival rate, landscape variables, local variables, Nest survival, temporal variables
Effects of Invasive Wetland Macrophytes on Habitat Selection by Turtles
Invasive species that alter habitats can have significant impacts on wildlife. The invasive graminoids Phragmites australis (Cav.) Trin. ex Steud, hereafter Phragmites, and Typha × glauca Godr. are rapidly spreading into North American wetlands, replacing native vegetation. Invasive Phragmites is considered a potential threat to several species-at-risk (SAR), including some turtle species. My study wetland contained large stands of Phragmites, as well as Typha spp. (including invasive T. × glauca) that have similar structural traits to Phragmites. To explore the hypothesis that Phragmites and Typha spp. do not provide suitable habitat for turtles, I tested the prediction that turtles avoid Phragmites- and Typha-dominated habitats. I used VHF-GPS transmitters to follow Blanding’s turtles (Emydoidea blandingii, n = 14) and spotted turtles (Clemmys guttata, n = 12). I found that both turtle species did not avoid Phragmites- or Typha-dominated habitats when choosing a home range, or while moving within their home range. I also tested whether the microhabitat selection of Blanding’s turtles and spotted turtles is affected by shoot density of Phragmites, Typha spp., or both. I compared shoot densities of Phragmites and Typha spp. in 4 m2 plots, from locations used by tracked turtles with paired, random locations in these turtles’ home ranges. For both turtle species, the densities of Phragmites and Typha shoots were comparable between used and random locations within the home ranges (generalized linear mixed model; p > 0.05). The use of Phragmites- and Typha-dominated habitats by Blanding’s turtles and spotted turtles suggests that these habitats do not automatically constitute “unsuitable habitats” for turtles. Phragmites and Typha spp. (especially T. × glauca) can replace preferred habitats of some turtle species, and the control of these invasive macrophytes can help to preserve habitat heterogeneity. However, the presence of SAR turtles in Phragmites and Typha spp. stands should inform risk-assessments for invasive plant species control methods that include mechanical rolling of stands, where heavy machinery might encounter turtles. Author Keywords: Blanding’s turtles, compositional analysis, habitat selection, Phragmites australis, spotted turtles, Typha x glauca
Risk of Mortality for the Semipalmated Plover (Charadrius semipalmatus) Throughout Its Life Cycle
Three long-term mark and recapture/resight data sets of individually marked Semipalmated Plovers (Charadrius semipalmatus) were analyzed using Cormack-Jolly- Seber models. Data came from two breeding populations (Churchill, Manitoba, Canada, n=982, and Egg Island, Alaska, USA, n=84) and one overwintering population (Cumberland Island, Georgia, USA, n=62). For Alaska and Georgia, time-invariant models were best-supported, giving annual survival estimates of 0.67 (95%C.I.: 0.58- 0.76) and 0.59 (95%C.I.: 0.49-0.67) respectively. Data from Manitoba supported a timedependent model: survival estimates varied from 1.00 to 0.36, with lowest estimates from recent years, supporting observations of local population decline. Seasonal survival analysis of the Georgia population indicated lower mortality during winter (monthly Φoverwinter: 0.959, 95%CI: 0.871-0.988; for 6 month period Φoverwinter: 0.780 (0.440-0.929)) than during combined breeding and migratory periods (monthly ΦBreeding+Migration: 0.879 (0.825-0.918); for 8 month ΦBreeding+Migration: 0356 (0.215-0.504)). I recommend, based on high resight rates, continued monitoring of survival of wintering populations, to determine potential range-wide population declines. Keywords: survival, longevity, mortality, shorebird, overwinter, breeding, migration, life cycle Author Keywords: life cycle, longevity, mortality, non-breeding, shorebird, survival
Tests of the Invasional Meltdown Hypothesis in invasive herbaceous plant species in southern Ontario
According to the Invasional Meltdown Hypothesis (IMH), invasive species may interact in their introduced range and facilitate future invasions. This study investigated the possibility that Alliaria petiolata, an invasive allelopathic herbaceous plant in Ontario, is facilitating invasions by additional alien species. Two allelopathic focal species were chosen for this study: the native Solidago canadensis and the invasive A. petiolata. Field surveys in southern Ontario that quantified plant biodiversity in plots that included one or both focal species revealed no support for the IMH, although fewer species co-existed with A. petiolata than with S. canadensis. A year-long recruitment experiment in Peterborough, Ontario, also produced results inconsistent with the IMH, although did provide some evidence that A. petiolata limited recruitment of other species. These results collectively show negative impacts on regional biodiversity by A. petiolata, even in the absence of an invasional meltdown. Author Keywords: allelopathy, Alliaria petiolata, co-occurrence surveys, invasional meltdown hypothesis, invasive species, Solidago canadensis
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
Ground-truthing effective population size estimators using long-term population data from inland salmonid populations
Effective population size (Ne) is a foundational concept in conservation biology, in part due to its relationship to the adaptive potential of populations. Although Ne is often estimated for wild populations, it is rarely calibrated against actual population estimates (Nc) other than to produce Ne/Nc ratios. This project used demographic and genetic data for from two intensively-studied populations of lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush) in Ontario’s Experimental Lake Area (ELA) as baseline data for evaluating the performance of multiple Ne estimators. Several temporal and single-time (point) genetic methods of estimating Ne were compared against demographic Ne estimates and known population data, as well as variation and consistency within and among Ne estimators. Changes in genetic Ne estimates over time were also compared to changes in demographic structure and fluctuating census estimates, including the effect of an experimentally manipulated population bottleneck on demographic and genetic Ne estimates during population reduction and recovery. Sampling years that included the most pre-, during and post-bottleneck data revealed the lowest estimates using temporal estimators (Ne = 16 to 18) despite pre- and post-bottleneck census estimates of 591 and 565. Estimation of Ne had increasingly tighter confidence intervals as sample sizes approached the actual number of breeding individuals in each population. Performance differences among the tested estimators highlight their potential biases and reliance on different assumptions, illustrating their potential value and caveats for assessing adaptive potential of wild populations. Author Keywords: Effective Population Size, Experimental Lakes Area, Fish Population Assessment, Lake Trout, Population Demographics, Population Genetics
Temperature effects on the routine metabolic rates of brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) eggs, alevin and fry
Early developmental stages of cold-adapted ectotherms such as brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) are at risk of mortality with increasing water temperatures because of their sensitivity to changes in their environment. I studied the mass and routine metabolic rate (RMR) of wild-origin brook trout eggs, alevin and young fry reared at normal (5°C) and elevated (9°C) temperatures for the duration of the study or at mismatched temperatures. This setup determined if preconditioning acclimation for one temperature benefits or hinders the organism later in life. Three levels of biological organization (ancestry, population, family) were studied using Akaike’s Information Criterion (AIC) to identify models that best accounted for variation in the data. Family, mass and temperature were most important in predicting body mass and mass-adjusted RMR, although population and ancestral-level differences were also detected at some life stages. Strong variation in body mass and mass-adjusted RMR among families may indicate adaptive potential within brook trout populations to respond to increases in water temperature with climate change. Author Keywords: Acclimation, AIC, Brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis), Environmental matching, Routine metabolic rate, Temperature
Conservation Genetics of Woodland Caribou in the Central Boreal Forest of Canada
Maintaining functional connectivity among wildlife populations is important to ensure genetic diversity and evolutionary potential of declining populations, particularly when managing species at risk. The Boreal Designatable Unit (DU) of woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) in Ontario, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan has declined in southern portions of the range because of increased human activities and has been identified as 'threatened' by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). In this dissertation, I used ten microsatellite DNA markers primarily from winter-collected fecal samples to delineate genetic structure of boreal caribou in declining portions of the range and increase understanding of the potential influence of the non-threatened Eastern Migratory DU of woodland caribou on genetic differentiation. Eastern migratory caribou are characterized by large home ranges compared to boreal caribou and migrate seasonally into portions of the Boreal DU range. A regional- and local-scale analysis using the spatial Bayesian clustering algorithm in program TESS delineated four regional clusters and 11 local clusters, with the majority of local clusters occurring along the southern periphery of the range. One of those clusters in Ontario corresponded spatially with the seasonal overlap of boreal and eastern migratory caribou and was characterized by substantial admixture, suggesting that the two DUs could be interbreeding. Next, I decoupled the impacts of historical and contemporary processes on genetic structure and found that historical processes were an important factor contributing to genetic differentiation, which may be a result of historical patterns of isolation by distance or different ancestry. Moreover, I found evidence of introgression from a currently unsampled population in northern Ontario, presumably barren-ground caribou (R. t. groenlandicus). Finally, because our analysis suggested recent processes were also responsible for genetic structure, I used a landscape genetics analysis to identify factors affecting contemporary genetic structure. Water bodies, anthropogenic disturbance, and mobility differences between the two DUs were important factors describing caribou genetic differentiation. This study provides insights on where conservation and management of caribou herds should be prioritized in threatened portions of the boreal caribou range and may have implications for future delineation of evolutionarily significant units. Author Keywords: boreal forest, genetic structure, landscape genetics, microsatellite DNA, Rangifer tarandus, woodland caribou
Development of genetic profiles for paternity analysis and individual identification of the North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis)
The endangered North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis) has been internationally protected from whaling since 1935 but recovery has been slow compared to the southern right whale (Eubalaena australis) due to anthropogenic mortalities and poor reproduction. Prey availability, genetic variability, and alleles of genes associated with reproductive dysfunction have been hypothesized to contribute to low calf production. The North Atlantic Right Whale DNA Bank and Database contains 1168 samples from 603 individuals. I added 115 new genetic profiles to the database which now contains profiles for 81% of individuals alive since 1980. Paternity assignments using these profiles resulted in 62% of sampled calves being assigned a father and only 38% of candidate males being assigned a paternity. This may suggest false exclusion due to genotyping errors or the existence of an unknown group of males. The use of the DNA database allowed for the identification of 10 deceased individuals which has implications for identifying cause of death and reducing mortalities. However, genetic identification is dependent on the time of post-mortem sample collection which influences DNA quantity and quality. An assessment for variations in methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase, a candidate gene associated with reproductive dysfunction, revealed six females heterozygous for a synonymous A/T variant in exon four which may influence reproductive success through changes in enzyme production, conformation or activity. Author Keywords: Eubalaena glacialis, Forensic Identification, Genetic Profiling, North Atlantic Right Whale, Paternity, Reproductive Dysfunction
Assessment of the impacts of noise and vessel traffic on the distribution, abundance and density of Chinese humpback dolphins (Sousa chinensis chinensis) in the waters of Hong Kong
Marine mammals with near-shore distributions are susceptible to human-related recreational and commercial disturbances, particularly near densely populated and industrialized coastal areas. A population of over 2,500 Chinese humpback dolphins (Sousa chinensis chinensis) occupies the Pearl River Estuary in southern China. A part of this population uses Hong Kong’s waters off of Lantau Island, where they are subjected to a number of anthropogenic threats, including vessel disturbance, fisheries interactions, and boat-based tourism. Previous research has shown that the abundance of this subspecies in Hong Kong’s waters has declined about 60% since 2003. Using a combination of acoustic recordings, dolphin distribution and abundance data, and vessel traffic information I found that: 1) Four types of vessels common to the waters on Hong Kong generate noise that is audible to Sousa chinensis chinensis; 2) The spatial distribution of underwater noise in Hong Kong’s waters does not significantly vary among the six sites sampled; 3) High-speed ferry traffic and passenger volume has increased dramatically during the study period; 4) There has been a significant decline in dolphin density in areas within and near vessel traffic; and 5) Dolphins are most at risk of vessel collisions and being exposed to vessel noise near Fan Lau and within the Urmston Road waterway just northeast of the Sha Chau and Lung Kwu Chau Marine Park . These results can inform future acoustic studies on this species and guide conservation and management efforts in Hong Kong. Author Keywords: Human impacts, Humpback dolphin, Management, Noise, Sousa chinensis chinensis, Vessel traffic

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