Graduate Theses & Dissertations


Comparative efficacy of eDNA and conventional methods for monitoring wetland anuran communities
Identifying population declines and mitigating biodiversity loss require reliable monitoring techniques, but complex life histories and cryptic characteristics of anuran species render conventional monitoring challenging and ineffective. Environmental DNA (eDNA) detection is a highly sensitive and minimally invasive alternative to conventional anuran monitoring. In this study, I conducted a field experiment in 30 natural wetlands to compare efficacy of eDNA detection via qPCR to three conventional methods (visual encounter, breeding call, and larval dipnet surveys) for nine anuran species. eDNA and visual encounter surveys detected the greatest species richness, with eDNA methods requiring the fewest sampling events. However, community composition results differed among methods, indicating that even top performing methods missed species detections. Overall, the most effective detection method varied by species, with some species requiring two to three methods to make all possible detections. Further, eDNA detection rates varied by sampling season for two species (A. americanus and H. versicolor), suggesting that species-specific ecology such as breeding and larval periods play an important role in eDNA presence. These findings suggest that optimized monitoring of complex anuran communities may require two or more monitoring methods selected based on the physiology and biology of all target species. Author Keywords: amphibian, anuran, conventional monitoring, eDNA, environmental DNA, species richness
Assessing the Cost of Reproduction between Male and Female Sex Functions in Hermaphroditic Plants
The cost of reproduction refers to the use of resources for the production of offspring that decreases the availability of resources for future reproductive events and other biological processes. Models of sex-allocation provide insights into optimal patterns of resource investment in male and female sex functions and have been extended to include other components of the life history, enabling assessment of the costs of reproduction. These models have shown that, in general, costs of reproduction through female function should usually exceed costs through male function. However, those previous models only considered allocations from a single pool of shared resources. Recent studies have indicated that the type of resource currency can differ for female and male sex functions, and that this might affect costs of reproduction via effects on other components of the life history. Using multiple invasibility analysis, this study examined resource allocation to male and female sex functions, while simultaneously considering allocations to survival and growth. Allocation patterns were modelled using both shared and separate resource pools. Under shared resources, allocation patterns to male and female sex function followed the results of earlier models. When resource pools were separate, however, allocations to male function often exceeded allocations to female function, even if fitness gains increased less strongly with investment in male function than with investment in female function. These results demonstrate that the costs of reproduction are affected by (1) the types of resources needed for reproduction via female or male function and (2) via trade-offs with other components of the life history. Future studies of the costs of reproduction should examine whether allocations to reproduction via female versus male function usually entail the use of different types of resources. Author Keywords: Cost of Reproduction, Gain Curve, Life History, Resource Allocation Patterns, Resource Currencies
Assessing Brook Trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) Seasonal Occupancy in Haliburton County, ON Using Environmental DNA
Brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) are declining across Ontario in both numbers and distribution, prompting concern for their future. Here, conventional, emerging, and predictive tools were combined to document brook trout occupation across seasons using streams in Haliburton County, ON as model systems. By using the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry’s (OMNRFs) Aquatic Ecosystem Classification (AEC) system variables with environmental DNA (eDNA) sampling and backpack electrofishing, my research supports the development of species occupancy models (SOMs) and eDNA as tools to document brook trout occurrence. To do this, eDNA sampling was validated in Canadian Shield stream environments by comparison with single-pass backpack electrofishing before seasonally sampling two river systems across their main channel and tributaries to assess occupancy. Streams were classified as potential high, moderate, and low-quality brook trout habitats using indicator variables within the AEC and sampled seasonally with eDNA to quantify occupancy and relate it to habitat potential at the county scale. Results showed eDNA to be an effective tool for monitoring fish across Canadian Shield landscapes and that brook trout occupancy varied seasonally within and across watersheds, suggesting that habitat and fish management strategies need to consider seasonal movement and spatial connectivity. Using these tools will enable biologists to efficiently predict and document brook trout occurrences and habitat use across the landscape. Author Keywords: Aquatic Ecosystem Classification, brook trout, Canadian Shield, connectivity, environmental DNA, seasonal occupation
Diversity, Biogeography, and Functional Traits of Native Bees from Ontario’s Far North and Akimiski Island, Nunavut
Bees (clade Anthophila), are poorly studied in northern Canada, as these regions can be difficult to access and have a short growing season. This study examined bees from two such regions: Ontario’s Far North, and Akimiski Island, Nunavut. I present this study as the largest biogeographical study of bees performed in these remote areas to enhance knowledge of northern native bees. I found 10 geographically unexpected species in Ontario and on Akimiski Island. Rarefaction and the Chao 1 Diversity Index showed that Akimiski is nearly as diverse as the Far North of Ontario, a significantly larger area. I also found, based on log femur length versus latitude, Bombus worker size was consistent with Bergmann’s rule, and there were no apparent statistical differences in the community weighted means of functional traits between the Far North’s Boreal Shield and Hudson Bay Lowlands ecozones. This work provides invaluable knowledge of the native bee species from these regions, which has implications for their future conservation. Author Keywords: Akimiski Island, Bergmann's rule, Chao 1, Community-weighted means, native bees, rarefaction
Calcium Stress in Daphnia Pulicaria and Exposure to Predator-Derived Cues
In recent decades, declining calcium concentrations have been reported throughout lakes across the southern edge of the Canadian Shield. This raises concern as Daphnia populations have shown to be decreasing as they require calcium not only for survival but to mitigate predation risks. Therefore, the purpose of my thesis was to study the adaptability of Daphnia under calcium limitation and predation risk from Chaoborus. Firstly, I examined the effects of calcium limitation and Chaobours kairomones on daphniid life-history and population growth. I found that low calcium concentrations and Chaoborus kairomones affected Daphnia calcium content, life-history traits, and survival. Next, I focused on how calcium concentrations and Chaoborus abundance affected the calcium content and abundance of daphniids. During this study, I also examined the relationship between the abundance of Daphnia and a competitor Holopedium. I found that calcium concentrations and the abundance of Chaoborus affects daphniid abundance. Overall, results from this study show the importance of considering both predation risk and calcium declines to better determine daphniid losses. Author Keywords: anti-predator responses, Chaoborus, competition , Life-History traits, predator cues, Zooplankton
Biosynthesis and impact of cytokinins on growth of the oyster mushroom, Pleurotus ostreatus
The oyster mushroom, Pleurotus ostreatus, is one of the most widely cultivated edible basidiomycetes. It has gained increased attention for its economic, environmental, and medicinal properties. While a lot is known about cytokinins (CKs) and their actions at the molecular and cellular levels in plants, much less is known about the function of CKs in other kingdoms. Cytokinins, which have been detected in several fungal species, play a role in pathogenic attack against plants or during plant growth promotion by plant beneficial microbes; however, the role of CKs in fungal physiology, separate from plant associations remains largely unknown. This thesis focuses on the occurrence of fungal-derived CKs in P. ostreatus when grown in vitro as submerged or aerial mycelium. Cytokinin profiling by UHPLC-HRMS/MS revealed that P. ostreatus produces CKs and that the tRNA degradation pathway is the main source of these molecules. CK dynamics within fungal growth supported previous evidence, which suggested that tRNA degradation products have a role in the physiological development of fungi for which CKs act as fungal growth regulators. A second component of the thesis demonstrated that P. ostreatus responds to exogenous applications of aromatic and isoprenoid CKs and their effects were dependent on the dose and CK type. N6-Benzyladenine (BAP), Kinetin (KIN), N6-isopentenyladenine (iP), and trans-zeatin (tZ) bioassays revealed hormone-type responses (hormesis: biphasic response). At low doses, mycelium growth could be stimulated, whereas, at high doses only inhibitory effects were observed. This stimulation/inhibition was observed whether the measured response was an increase/decrease of aerial mycelium colony diameter, biomass accumulation or a change in mycelium morphology as compared to the controls. Results indicated there is potential to alter mycelium growth and development of P. ostreatus; thus, CKs may play the role of a “mycohormone” and may be specifically helpful for medicinal fungi by increasing growth and efficiency to produce many biologically active substances with valuable medical and environmental applications. Author Keywords: cytokinins, fungal-derived CKs, hormesis, mycelium, mycohormone, Pleurotus ostreatus
role of Cln5 in autophagy, using a Dictyostelium discoideum model of Batten disease
This thesis investigated the role of the neuronal ceroid lipofuscinosis protein, Cln5, during autophagy. This was accomplished by performing well-established assays in a Dictyostelium cln5 knockout model (cln5-). In this study, cln5- cells displayed a reduced maximum cell density during growth and impaired cell proliferation in autophagy-stimulating media. cln5- cells had an increased number of autophagic puncta (autophagosomes and lysosomes), suggesting that autophagy is induced when cln5 is absent. cln5- cells displayed increased amounts of ubiquitin-positive proteins but had no change in proteasome protein abundance. During the development of cln5- cells, fruiting bodies developed precociously and cln5- slug size was reduced. Lastly, when cln5- cells were developed on water agar containing ammonium chloride (NH4Cl), a lysosomotropic agent, the formation of multicellular structures was impaired, and the small slug phenotype was exaggerated. In summary, these results indicate that Cln5 plays a role in autophagy in Dictyostelium. The cellular processes that regulate autophagy in Dictyostelium are similar to those that regulate the process in mammalian cells. Thus, this research provides insight into the undefined pathological mechanism of CLN5 disease and could identify cellular pathways for targeted therapeutics. Author Keywords: Autophagy, Batten disease, Cln5, Dictyostelium discoideum, NCL
Cytokinins in nematodes
To investigate cytokinins (CKs) in nematodes, CK profiles of a free-living Caenorhabditis elegans and a plant parasitic Heterodera glycines (soybean cyst nematode, SCN) were determined at the egg and larval stages. SCN had higher total CK level than C. elegans; however, CKs in SCN were mostly inactive precursors, whereas C. elegans had more bioactive forms. This is the first study to show that methylthiols are present in nematodes and may affect plant infection. In infectious SCN larvae, methylthiol levels were much higher than in eggs or C. elegans larvae. Furthermore, The CK profiles of SCN-susceptible and resistant Glycine max cultivars at three developmental stages revealed that, regardless of the resistance level, SCN infection caused an increase in root CKs. One resistant cultivar, Pion 93Y05, showed significantly high levels of bioactive N6-isopentenyladenine (iP) in the non-infected roots which indicated a potential role of CKs in soybean resistance to SCN. Author Keywords: Cytokinins, HPLC-MS/MS, Nematode, SCN resistance, Soybean
Shorebird Habitat Use and Foraging Ecology on Bulls Island, South Carolina During the Non-Breeding Season
Recent declines in North American shorebird populations could be linked to habitat loss on the non-breeding grounds. Sea-level rise and increased frequency of coastal storms are causing significant erosion of barrier islands, thereby threatening shorebirds who rely on shoreline habitats for foraging. I conducted shorebird surveys on Bulls Island, South Carolina in the winters of 2018 and 2019 and examined habitat selection and foraging behaviour in Dunlin (Calidris alpina), Sanderling (Calidris alba), Semipalmated Plovers (Charadrius semipalmatus), and Piping Plovers (Charadrius melodus). Area, tidal stage, and invertebrate prey availability were important determinants of shorebird abundance, behaviour, and distribution. My study highlights the importance of Bulls Island’s habitat heterogeneity to supporting a diverse community of non-breeding shorebirds. Considering both the high rate of erosion and the increased frequency of disturbance along the shoreline of the island, intertidal habitats should be monitored to predict negative effects of changes in habitat composition and area on non-breeding shorebirds. Author Keywords: foraging behaviour, habitat loss, habitat selection, invertebrate prey, non-breeding, shorebirds
Discriminating grey wolf (Canis lupus) predation events in a multi-prey system in central Saskatchewan
I investigated if spatio-temporal behaviour of grey wolves (Canis lupus) determined via GPS collar locations could be used to discriminate predation events generally, and among prey species, in Prince Albert National Park during winter, 2013-2017. I used characteristics of spatio-temporal GPS clusters to develop a predictive mixed-effect logistic regression model of which spatial clusters of locations were wolf kill sites. The model suffered a 60 % omission error when tested with reserved data due to the prevalence of deer kills with correspondingly low handling time. Next, I found a multivariate difference in the percentage of habitat classes used by wolves in the 2 hours preceding predation events of different prey species, suggesting that wolf habitat use reflects prey selection at a fine-scale. My results highlight the difficulty and future potential for remoting discriminating wolf predation events via GPS collar locations in multi-prey ecosystems. Author Keywords: Canis lupus, GPS clusters, GPS collars, grey wolf, habitat use, predation
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
Detectability and its role in understanding upland sandpiper (Bartramia longicauda) occurence in the fragmented landscape of southern Ontario
Upland Sandpipers (Bartramia longicauda), like many grassland birds, are undergoing population decline in parts of their range. Habitat fragmentation and change have been hypothesized as potential causes of decline. I used citizen-science occurrence data from Wildlife Preservation Canada’s Adopt-A-Shrike Loggerhead Shrike (Lanius ludovicianus) program in conjunction with validation surveys, using similar point-count methods, to examine detectability and determine if landscape level habitat features could predict occupancy of Upland Sandpipers in Southern Ontario. In a single season detectability study, I used Wildlife Preservation Canada’s survey protocol to determine detectability in sites that were known to be occupied. Detectability was low, with six surveys necessary to ensure detection using a duration of at least 18 minutes early in the breeding season. The proportion of open habitat did not affect detection on the landscape. Using a larger spatial and temporal scale, with five years of citizen-science data, I showed that Annual Crop Inventory data could not effectively predict Upland Sandpiper occupancy. Model uncertainty could be attributed to survey protocol and life history traits of the Upland Sandpiper, suggesting that appropriate survey methods be derived a priori for maximizing the potential of citizen-science data for robust analyses. Author Keywords: Bartramia longicauda, citizen-science, detection, landscape, occupancy, Ontario


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