Graduate Theses & Dissertations

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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
Dynamics and Mechanisms of Community Assembly in a Mined Carolinian Peatland
Theoretical work on community recovery, development, stability, and resistance to species invasions has outpaced experimental field research. There is also a need for better integration between ecological theory and the practice of ecological restoration. This thesis investigates the dynamics of community assembly following peat mining and subsequent restoration efforts at Canada's most southerly raised bog. It examines mechanisms underlying plant community changes and tests predictions arising from the Dynamic Environmental Filter Model (DEFM) and the Fluctuating Resource Hypothesis (FRH). Abiotic, biotic and dispersal filters were modified to test a conceptual model of assembly for Wainfleet Bog. Hydrology was manipulated at the plot scale across multiple nutrient gradients, and at the whole bog scale using peat dams. Trends in time series of hydrological variables were related to restoration actions and uncontrolled variables including precipitation, evapotranspiration and arrival of beaver. Impacts of a changing hydrology on the developing plant community were compared with those from cutting the invasive Betula pendula. Transplanting experiments were used to examine species interactions within primary and secondary successional communities. Seedlings of B. pendula and the native Betula papyrifera were planted together across a peat volumetric water content (VWC) gradient. Impacts of beaver dams were greater than those of peat dams and their relative importance was greatest during periods of drought. Cutting of B.pendula had little effect on the secondary successional plant community developing parallel to blocked drains. Phosphorus was the main limiting nutrient with optimum levels varying substantially between species. Primary colonisers formed a highly stable, novel plant community. Stability was due to direct and indirect facilitative interactions between all species. Reduction in frost heaving was the major mechanism behind this facilitation. Interactions within the secondary successional community were mostly competitive, driven by light and space availability. However, restricted dispersal rather than competition limited further species recruitment. Predictions based on the DEFM were partially correct. A splitting of this model's biotic filter into competition and facilitation components is proposed. There was little support for the FRH based on nutrient levels and VWC. B. pendula had higher germination and growth rates, tolerance to a wider range of peat VWCs and a greater resistance to deer browsing than native birch. Peat mining, combined with restoration actions and the arrival of beaver has moved much of the bog back to an earlier successional stage circa 350+ years BP. Evidence points to B. pendula being a "back-seat driver" in the ecosystem recovery process. Indirect facilitation of a native by an exotic congener, mediated through herbivory, has not been described previously. Shifts in relative contributions of facilitation, competition and dispersal limitations to community assembly may be useful process-oriented measures for gauging progress in restoration. Author Keywords: Betula pendula, community assembly, competition, facilitation, peatland, restoration
De novo transcriptome assembly, functional annotation, and SNP discovery in North American flying squirrels (genus Glaucomys)
Introgressive hybridization between northern (Glaucomys sabrinus) and southern flying squirrels (G. volans) has been observed in some areas of Canada and the USA. However, existing molecular markers lack the resolution to discriminate late-generation introgressants and describe the extent to which hybridization influences the Glaucomys gene pool. I report the first North American flying squirrel (genus Glaucomys) functionally annotated de novo transcriptome assembly with a set of 146,621 high-quality, annotated putative species-diagnostic SNP markers. RNA-sequences were obtained from two northern flying squirrels and two southern flying squirrels sampled from Ontario, Canada. I reconstructed 702,228 Glaucomys transcripts using 193,323,120 sequence read-pairs, and captured sequence homologies, protein domains, and gene function classifications. These genomic resources can be used to increase the resolution of molecular techniques used to examine the dynamics of the Glaucomys hybrid zone. Author Keywords: annotation, de novo transcriptome, flying squirrels, high-throughput sequencing, hybridization, single nucleotide polymorphisms
Long-Term Population Dynamics of an Unexploited Lacustrine Brook Trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) Population
Long-term studies of demographic processes such as survival and abundance conducted in unexploited systems provide unique insight into the natural population ecology of fish, but are rarely available. I used historical tagging records of a sanctuary population of brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) in Algonquin Park, Ontario to investigate long-term population dynamics in an unexploited population. Adult brook trout in Mykiss Lake (23.5ha) were surveyed and tagged biannually (May and October) between 1990 and 2004. Open-population capture-mark-recapture models were used to test the importance of time, size, sex and season on estimates of apparent survival and abundance. Seasonal population growth and recruitment were estimated and compared with large-scale climate indices. Time-dependent survival and abundance estimates fluctuated, with distinct periods of increase. Population growth and recruitment were positively correlated with summer NAO and ENSO values, whereas survival was negatively correlated. Seasonally, larger individuals experienced higher apparent survival during winter and decreased survival during summer. These findings provide valuable insights into the natural demography of unexploited brook trout populations, and should help inform sustainable management of inland fisheries. Author Keywords: capture-mark-recapture, long-term, population dynamics, Salvelinus fontinalis, seasonal variation, survival
Discontinuities in stream networks
The network composition hypothesis (NCH) suggests that i) large confluence symmetry ratios (drainage area of the tributary relative to the mainstem) and ii) landscape differences (differences in landscape characteristics between the mainstem and tributary drainages) lead to greater ecological changes below confluences. As a test of the NCH, 34 confluences were sampled in southern Ontario to examine the effects of these two factors on benthic invertebrate communities to infer the degree of ecological change at confluences. Given the typology of streams surveyed, there was subtle evidence that benthic invertebrate communities below confluences changed as a function of confluence symmetry ratio and landscape differences. This indicates that abrupt changes in stream networks are not as common as theory may suggest. Further support for the network composition hypothesis may be found by examining a wider range of stream types and examining single-species responses. Author Keywords: benthic invertebrates, community similarity, landscape characteristics, stream networks, tributary
Effects of Hydroelectric Corridors on the Distribution of Female Caribou (Rangifer tarandus) on the Island of Newfoundland
A species of concern is caribou (Rangifer tarandus), a species in decline across most of the circumpolar North, including the island of Newfoundland. Resource exploitation across caribou ranges is projected to accelerate in the coming decades as oil extraction, roads, forest harvesting, and mining encroach upon their habitat. Hydroelectric corridors, in particular, are anticipated to expand significantly. The effects of these linear developments on caribou habitat remain unclear. I capitalized on an existing dataset of nearly 700 radio‐tracked female caribou, 1980‐2011, to determine the long‐term effects of hydroelectric corridors on their seasonal distributions. Using an island-wide landcover map, I tested for preference or avoidance hydroelectric corridors in each of 4 seasons using the Euclidean Distance habitat selection technique at the extent of the population ranges (broad scale) for each decade (1980s, 1990s, 2000s). I also examined the distribution of caribou ≤10 km and ≤20 km from corridors (narrow scale) for five herds. At the broad scale, the response was highly variable. Female caribou were most likely to avoid corridors during the 1980s, but they often exhibited little aversion, even preference for corridors, particularly in the 1990s and 2000s. Hydroelectric corridors, therefore, did not appear to be limiting at this scale. I surmise that these long-term shifts reflect the heightened density-dependent food limitation for Newfoundland caribou. At the narrow scale, avoidance of corridors was common – typically, a 50% reduction in use within 2-5 km of the corridor. Consistent with the broad scale, caribou exhibited the strongest tendency for avoidance in the 1980s compared to subsequent decades. Understanding space-use remains central to the study of caribou ecology. Hydroelectric lines in Newfoundland tended to coincide with other anthropogenic features. Cumulative effects must be considered to understand the full range of effects by human developments on caribou. Author Keywords: Caribou, distribution, habitat, hydroelectric, Newfoundland, Rangifer tarandus
Nunavik Inuit Knowledge of Beluga
Socio-ecological systems are inherently complex and marine mammals are fundamentally challenging to study. In the Arctic, marine mammals occupy a central ecological role, as nutrient cyclers and as a source of food and culture for Indigenous peoples. Inuit have developed a rich knowledge system, which has not been fully actualized in application in most Arctic research. Considering the need for the best available information in marine mammal ecology, the research question guiding this dissertation was: How can multiple methods and approaches be used to more effectively gather, understand, and represent Inuit Knowledge for an improved understanding of marine mammal ecology? The dissertation investigates this question using a case study of beluga in Nunavik (Arctic Quebec) drawing on the expertise of hunters and Elders to better understand complex questions in marine mammal ecology. The thesis uses a transdisciplinary approach to address the dissertation objective and is comprised of a general introduction, followed by four chapters formatted as journal manuscripts, and closes with an integrated discussion and conclusion. The first manuscript examines the contributions of Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) of beluga to marine mammal literature. The second manuscript uses a sub-set of data gathered through participant mapping to apply a mapping method to explore how the spatial aspects of TEK could be better documented, analyzed, and represented. The third and fourth papers are based on the knowledge shared by hunters and Elders. The third explores the questions ‘why do beluga migrate?’ and ‘what factors influence beluga movement?’. The fourth investigates aspects of beluga foraging ecology. This dissertation makes methodological contributions through the application of kernel density estimators to participant maps as a method for transforming multiple mapped narratives into a quantitative database. The understandings shared by hunters and Elders make significant ecological contributions, particularly to foraging (e.g. diet composition and seasonal energy intake), and movement ecology (e.g. potential drivers of migration). Broadly these findings contribute to our collective understanding of beluga ecology and have implications for wildlife management. Author Keywords: Arctic, Beluga biology, foraging ecology, Inuit Knowledge, migration, transdisciplinary
Making eDNA count
Environmental DNA (eDNA) is rapidly becoming an established method for the detection of species in aquatic systems and has been suggested as a promising tool to estimate species abundance. However, the strength of the relationship between eDNA concentrations and taxon abundance (density/biomass) can vary widely between species. I investigated the relationship between eDNA concentration and species abundance using two common and closely-related amphibians in eastern North America, the wood frog (Rana sylvatica) and northern leopard frog (Rana pipiens). I manipulated tadpole density in 80 L mesocosms and documented the relationship between tadpole density, biomass, and eDNA concentration. Species were comparable in biomass but differed in the amount of detectible genetic material produced; density and biomass were the superior abundance metric correlated with eDNA concentration for wood frogs and leopard frogs, respectively. However, increases in eDNA concentration reflected increasing tadpole biomass, therefore biomass is likely a better metric of abundance than density. Overall my findings support that eDNA concentration can be used as an index of species abundance, but that species-specific calibration may be needed before eDNA concentration can be effectively translated to an abundance metric. Future research should refine our understanding of how biotic and abiotic factors influence eDNA production, degradation, and recovery across species, before the method can receive widespread use as a monitoring tool in natural settings. Author Keywords: abundance estimates, environmental DNA, mesocosm, Rana pipiens, Rana sylvatica
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
cascading effects of risk in the wild
Predation risk can elicit a range of responses in prey, but to date little is known about breadth of potential responses that may arise under realistic field conditions and how such responses are linked, leaving a fragmented picture of risk-related consequences on individuals. We increased predation risk in free-ranging snowshoe hares (Lepus americanus) during two consecutive summers by simulating natural chases using a model predator (i.e., domestic dog), and monitored hare stress physiology, energy expenditure, behaviour, condition, and habitat use. We show that higher levels of risk elicited marked changes in physiological stress metrics including sustained high levels of free plasma cortisol which had cascading effects on glucose, and immunology, but not condition. Risk-augmented hares also had lowered daily energy expenditure, spent more time foraging, and decreased rest, vigilance, and travel. It is possible that these alterations allowed risk-exposed hares to increase their condition at the same rate as controls. Additionally, risk-augmented hares selected, had high fidelity to, and were more mobile in structurally dense habitat (i.e., shrubs) which provided them additional cover from predators. They also used more open habitat (i.e., conifer) differently based on locale within the home range, using familiar conifer areas within cores for rest while moving through unfamiliar conifer areas in the periphery. Overall, these findings show that prey can have a multi-faceted, highly plastic response in the face of risk and can mitigate the effects of their stress physiology given the right environmental conditions. Author Keywords: behaviour, condition, daily energy expenditure, predator-prey interactions, snowshoe hare, stress physiology
mechanistic analysis of density dependence in algal population dynamics
Population density regulation is a fundamental principle in ecology, however there remain several unknowns regarding the functional expression of density dependence. One prominent view is that the patterns by which density dependence is expressed are largely fixed across a species, irrespective of environmental conditions. Our study investigated the expression of density dependence in Chlamydomonas reinhartti grown under a gradient of nutrient densities, and hypothesized that the relationship between per capita growth rate (pgr) and population density would vary from concave-up to concave-down as nutrients became less limiting. Contrary to prediction, we found that the relationship between a population's pgr and density became increasingly concave-up as nutrient levels increased. Our results suggest that density dependence is strongly variable depending on exogenous and endogenous processes acting on the population, implying that expression of density regulation depends extensively on local conditions. Population growth suppression may be attributable to environments with high intraspecific competition. Additional work should reveal the mechanisms influencing how the expression of density dependence varies across populations through space and time. Author Keywords: Chlamydomonas reinhartti, density dependence, logistic model, population dynamics, single species growth, theta-logistic equation
Assessment of an adult lake sturgeon translocation (Acipenser fulvescens) reintroduction effort in a fragmented river system
North American freshwater fishes are declining rapidly due to habitat fragmentation, degradation, and loss. In some cases, translocations can be used to reverse local extirpations by releasing species in suitable habitats that are no longer naturally accessible. Lake sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens) experienced historical overharvest across their distribution, leading to endangered species listings and subsequent protection and recovery efforts. Despite harvest and habitat protections, many populations do not appear to be recovering, which has been attributed to habitat alteration and fragmentation by dams. In 2002, 51 adult lake sturgeon from the Mattagami River, Ontario, Canada were translocated 340 km upstream to a fragmented 35 km stretch of the river between two hydroelectric generating stations, where sturgeon were considered extirpated. This study assessed the translocation effort using telemetry (movement), demographics and genetic data. Within the first year, a portion of the radio-tagged translocated individuals dispersed out of the release area, and released radio-tagged individuals used different areas than individuals radio-tagged ten years later. Catches of juvenile lake sturgeon have increased over time, with 150 juveniles caught within the duration of this study. The reintroduced population had similar genetic diversity as the source population, with a marked reduction in effective population size (Ne). The results indicate that the reintroduction effort was successful, with evidence of successful spawning and the presence of juvenile lake sturgeon within the reintroduction site. Overall, the results suggest adult translocations may be a useful tool for re-establishing other extirpated lake sturgeon populations. Author Keywords: conservation, endangered species, lake sturgeon, reintroduction, telemetry, translocation

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