Graduate Theses & Dissertations

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Hybridization dynamics in cattails (Typha spp.,) in northeastern North America
Interspecific hybridization is an important evolutionary process which can contribute to the invasiveness of species complexes. In this dissertation I used the hybridizing species complex of cattails (Typha spp., Typhaceae) to explore some of the processes that could contribute to hybridization rates. Cattails in northeastern North America comprise the native T. latifolia, the non-native T. angustifolia, and their fertile hybrid, T. × glauca. First, I examined whether these taxa segregate by water depth as habitat segregation may be associated with lower incidence of hybridization. I found that these taxa occupy similar water depths and therefore that habitat segregation by water depth does not promote mating isolation among these taxa. I then compared pollen dispersal patterns between progenitor species as pollen dispersal can also influence rates of hybrid formation. Each progenitor exhibits localized pollen dispersal, and the maternal parent of first generation hybrids captures more conspecific than heterospecific pollen; both of which should lead to reduced hybrid formation. I then conducted controlled crosses using all three Typha taxa to quantify hybrid fertility and to parameterize a fertility model to predict how mating compatibilities should affect the composition of cattail stands. I found that highly asymmetric formation of hybrids and backcrosses and reduced hybrid fertility should favour the maintenance of T. latifolia under certain conditions. Finally, I used a population genetics approach to characterize genetic diversity and structure of Typha in northeastern North America to determine the extent to which broad-scale processes such as gene flow influence site-level processes. I concluded that hybrids are most often created within sites or introduced in small numbers rather than exhibiting broad-scale dispersal. This suggests that local processes are more important drivers of hybrid success than landscape-scale processes which would be expected to limit the spread of the hybrid. Though my findings indicate some barriers to hybridization in these Typha taxa, hybrid cattail dominates much of northeastern North America. My results therefore show that incomplete barriers to hybridization may not be sufficient to prevent the continued dominance of hybrids and that active management of invasive hybrids may be required to limit their spread. Author Keywords: fertility model, genetic structure, Hybridization, invasive species, niche segregation, pollen dispersal
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
New Interpretations from Old Data
Range contractions and expansions are important ecological concepts for species management decisions. These decisions relate not only to rare and endangered species but to common and invasive species as well. The development of the broad spatiotemporal extent models that are helpful in examining range fluctuations can be challenging given the lack of data expansive enough to cover the time periods and geographic extents needed to fit the models. Archival records such as museum databases and harvest data can provide the spatiotemporal extent needed but present statistical challenges given they represent presence-only location information. In this thesis, I used maximum entropy and Bayesian hierarchical occupancy algorithms fitted with archival presence-only records to develop spatiotemporal models covering broad spatial and temporal extents for snowshoe hare and Canada lynx. These two algorithm types are well suited for presence-only data records and can be adapted to include biological and physical processes, thus improving the ecological realism of the models. Using these modelling methods, I found the extent of occurrence (EOO) and area of occupancy (AOO) varied greatly over time and space for both snowshoe hare and Canada lynx, suggesting that management decisions for these species should include consideration of these variations. While the presence-only data were appropriate for model development and understanding changing values in EOO and AOO, it sometimes lacked the locational accuracy and precision needed to create fine scale ecological analyses, thus resulting in somewhat coarse but potentially relevant conclusions. Author Keywords: Area of occupancy, Bayesian hierarchical models, Canada lynx, Extent of occurrence, Presence-only data, Snowshoe hare
Time to adapt
To better understand species’ resilience to climate change and implement solutions, we must conserve environments that maintain standing adaptive genetic variation and the potential generation of new beneficial alleles. Coding trinucleotide repeats (cTNRs) providing high-pace adaptive capabilities via high rates of mutation are ideal targets for mitigating the decline of species at risk by characterizing adaptively significant populations. Ultimately, adaptive genetic information will inform the protection of biological diversity below the species level (i.e., “Evolutionarily Significant Units” or “ESUs”). This dissertation investigates cTNRs within candidate genes to determine their prevalence and influence under selection in North American mammals. First, I evaluated the potential for somatic mosaicism in Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis), and found that tissue-specific mosaicism does not confound cTNR genotyping success in lynx. Second, I assessed a selection of clock gene cTNRs across characterized mammals and found that these repeats are abundant and highly variable in length and purity. I also identified preliminary signatures of selection in 3 clock gene cTNRs in 3 pairs of congeneric North American mammal species, highlighting the importance of cTNRs for understanding the evolution and adaptation of wild populations. I further evaluated the influence of selection on the NR1D1 cTNR within Canada lynx sampled across Canada using environmental correlation, where I estimated the variation in NR1D1 cTNR alleles explained by environmental and spatial variables after removing the effects of neutral population structure. Although most variation was explained by neutral structure, environment and spatial patterns in eastern lynx populations significantly explained some of the variation in NR1D1 alleles. To examine the role of island populations in the generation and distribution of adaptive genetic variation, I used 14 neutral microsatellites and a dinucleotide repeat within a gene linked to mammalian body size, IGF-1, and found that both genetic drift and natural selection influence the observed genetic diversity of insular lynx. Finally, I estimated the divergence dates of peripheral lynx populations and made recommendations towards the conservation of Canada lynx; high levels of genetic differentiation coupled with post-glacial colonization histories and patterns of divergence at cTNR loci suggest at least 4 ESUs for Canada lynx across their range. Author Keywords: adaptation, Canada lynx, candidate genes, coding trinucleotide repeats, evolution, natural selection
Stress Axis Function and Regulation in New World Flying Squirrels
Across vertebrate taxa, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (or the stress axis) is highly conserved, and is central to vertebrate survival because it allows appropriate responses to psychological stressors. Habitat shapes successful physiological and ecological strategies, and to appreciate how individual species respond to stressors in their environment, it is essential to have a thorough knowledge of the basic stress physiology of each species. In this dissertation, I studied the functioning and evolution of the stress physiology of New World flying squirrels. I showed that baseline, circulating cortisol levels in northern (Glaucomys sabrinus) and southern (G. volans) flying squirrels are some of the highest ever reported for mammals, indicating that their stress axes operate at a higher set point than most other species. I also assessed other aspects of their acute stress response, including free fatty acid and blood glucose levels, and indices of immune function, and showed that the flying squirrels’ physiological reaction to stressors may differ from that of other mammals. Using immunoblotting, I found that corticosteroid-binding globulin (CBG) expression levels in flying squirrels appeared to be higher than previously reported using alternative methods. I also concluded however, that these levels did not appear to be high enough to provide their tissues with the protective CBG-bound buffer from their high circulating cortisol concentrations experienced by the majority of vertebrates. Thus, this arm of cortisol regulation within the flying squirrel stress axes may be weak or non-existent. Following this, I focused on southern flying squirrels and showed evidence that the second arm of cortisol regulation — the negative feedback mechanism at the level of the brain — functions effectively, but that this species is glucocorticoid resistant. Their tissue receptors appear to have a reduced affinity for cortisol, and this affinity may change seasonally to allow for the onset of other biological processes required for survival and reproduction. Due to their distinctive stress physiology, northern and southern flying squirrels may provide comparative physiologists with model systems for further probing of the function and evolution of the stress axis among vertebrates. Author Keywords: corticosteroid-binding globulin, flying squirrel, Glaucomys, glucocorticoids, physiological ecology, stress physiology
Assessing Canada Lynx Dispersal Across an Elevation Barrier
Mountain ranges are often thought to restrict movement of wildlife, yet previous studies evaluating the role of the Rocky Mountains as a dispersal barrier for Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis) have been contradictory. Our study uses neutral microsatellite loci to evaluate the role of the Rocky Mountains as a barrier to gene flow for lynx. Although lynx exhibited low genetic differentiation, we detected a limited effect of the mountains. Furthermore, we inferred the role played by landscape variables in gene flow (genetic differentiation predicted by landscape resistance). Limited gene flow most strongly related to resistance from physical factors (low snow cover and elevation), rather than other topographic and ecological factors (high terrain roughness, low forest cover, low habitat suitability, and geographic distance). Structural connectivity was a relatively poor predictor of functional connectivity. Overall, the Rockies represent an area of reasonably high functional connectivity for lynx, with limited resistance to gene flow. Author Keywords: Canada lynx, connectivity, gene flow, genetic structure, landscape genetics, Rocky mountains
Functional Genetic Diversity in American Mink (Neovison vison)
The release of domestic organisms to the wild is considered a threat to biodiversity because the introduction of domestic genes through interbreeding can negatively impact wild conspecifics via outbreeding and local extinction. In North America, captive American mink (Neovison vison) are frequently escaping into the wild, yet the impact of these events on the functional genetic diversity of wild mink populations is unclear. I characterized domestic and wild mink in Ontario at 17 trinucleotide microsatellites located in functional genes thought to be associated with traits affected by domestication. I found low functional genetic diversity, as only 4 of 17 genes were variable and of those four there was little evidence of allele frequency differences between domestic and wild mink. Using redundancy analysis and a spatial analysis of principal components on the four variable loci (AR, ATN1, IGF-1, and TOB1) I found no evidence to suggest domestic release events are affecting functional genetic diversity of free-ranging mink at the set of markers assessed. Author Keywords: American mink, domestication, functional gene, introgression, Neovison vison
Sex-Specific Graphs
Sex-specific genetic structure is a commonly observed pattern among vertebrate species. Facing differential selective pressures, individuals may adopt sex-specific life historical traits that ultimately shape genetic variation among populations. Although differential dispersal dynamics are commonly detected in the literature, few studies have investigated the potential effect of sex-specific functional connectivity on genetic structure. The recent uses of Graph Theory in landscape genetics have demonstrated network capacities to describe complex system behaviors where network topology intuitively represents genetic interaction among sub-units. By implementing a sex-specific network approach, our results suggest that Sex-Specific Graphs (SSG) are sensitive to differential male and female dispersal dynamics of a fisher (Martes pennanti) metapopulation in southern Ontario. Our analyses based on SSG topologies supported the hypothesis of male-biased dispersal. Furthermore, we demonstrated that the effect of the landscape, identified at the population-level, could be partitioned among sex-specific strata. We found that female connectivity was negatively affected by snow depth, while being neutral for males. Our findings underlined the potential of conducting sex-specific analysis by identifying landscape elements that promotes or impedes functional connectivity of wildlife populations, which sometimes remains cryptic when studied at the population level. We propose that SSG approach would be applicable to other vagile species where differential sex-specific processes are expected to occur. Author Keywords: genetic structure, Landscape Genetics, Martes pennanti, Population Graph, sex-biased dispersal, Sex-Specific Graphs
Testing for Interspecific Hybridization and a Latitudinal Cline Within the Clock Gene Per1 of the Deer Mouse (Peromyscus maniculatus) and the White-Footed Mouse (Peromyscus leucopus)
The recent northward expansion of the white-footed mouse (Peromyscus leucopus) in response to climatic changes provides a natural experiment to explore potential adaptive genetic variation within the clock gene Per1 in Peromyscus undergoing latitudinal shifts, as well as, the possibility of hybridization and introgression related to novel secondary contact with its sister species the deer mouse (Peromyscus maniculatus). Because clock genes influence the timing of behaviors critical for survival, variations in genotype may reflect an organism’s ability to persist in different environments. Hybridization followed by introgression may increase the adaptive potential of a species by quickly generating adaptive variation through novel genetic recombination or by the transfer of species-specific alleles that have evolved in response to certain environments. In chapter 2, I used microsatellite and mtDNA markers to test for hybridization and introgression between P. maniculatus and P. leucopus and found that interbreeding is occurring at a low frequency (<1%). In chapter 3, I tested for a latitudinal cline in a polyglycine repeat located within the Per1 gene of Peromyscus and discovered a putative cline in the Per1-142 and Per1-157 allele of P. leucopus and P. maniculatus, respectively. Chapter 4, further expands upon these findings, limitations, and the lack of evidence supporting introgression at the Per1 locus. Despite this lack of evidence, it is possible that novel hybridization has or could lead to adaptive introgression of other genes, allowing for the exchange of adaptive alleles or traits that could be advantageous for range expansion and adaption to future environmental changes. Author Keywords: Clock genes, Hybridization, Latitudinal gradient, Per1, Peromyscus, Range Expansion
Genetic diversity and differentiation of Ontario’s recolonizing fishers (Pekania pennanti)
Fishers (Pekania pennanti) were extirpated from many parts of Ontario in the early 20th century, but as of the early 2000s the species had recolonized most of its historical range. While the primary population genetic structure of fishers in central and eastern Ontario has not changed drastically over the past ten years, we did find evidence of increased secondary structure and a reduction in northward movement from southeastern Ontario, a site of recent immigration from the Adirondacks in northern New York. This may be indicative of a reduction in density and thus in density-dependent migration, or it may be a consequence of the population reaching equilibrium following a period of rapid expansion associated with recolonization. We also observed no variation within central and eastern Ontario at 14 of 15 candidate functional loci we screened, suggesting possible directional or stabilizing selection and a lack of adaptive potential. Author Keywords: fisher, functional genes, Ontario, Pekania pennanti, population genetics, recolonization
SPATIAL AND TEMPORAL GENETIC STRUCTURE OF WOLVERINE POPULATIONS
Habitat loss and fragmentation can disrupt population connectivity, resulting in small, isolated populations and low genetic variability. Understanding connectivity patterns in space and time is critical in conservation and management planning, especially for wide-ranging species in northern latitudes where habitats are becoming increasingly fragmented. Wolverines (Gulo gulo) share similar life history traits observed in large-sized carnivores, and their low resiliency to disturbances limits wolverine persistence in modified or fragmented landscapes - making them a good indicator species for habitat connectivity. In this thesis, I used neutral microsatellite and mitochondrial DNA markers to investigate genetic connectivity patterns of wolverines for different temporal and spatial scales. Population genetic analyses of individuals from North America suggested wolverines west of James Bay in Canada are structured into two contemporary genetic clusters: an extant cluster at the eastern periphery of Manitoba and Ontario, and a northwestern core cluster. Haplotypic composition, however, suggested longstanding differences between the extant eastern periphery and northwestern core clusters. Phylogeographic analyses across the wolverine's Holarctic distribution supported a postglacial expansion from a glacial refugium near Beringia. Although Approximate Bayesian computations suggested a west-to-east stepping-stone divergence pattern across North America, a mismatch distribution indicated a historic bottleneck event approximately 400 generations ago likely influenced present-day patterns of haplotype distribution. I also used an individual-based genetic distance measure to identify landscape features potentially influencing pairwise genetic distances of wolverines in Manitoba and Ontario. Road density and mean spring snow cover were positively associated with genetic distances. Road density was associated with female genetic distance, while spring snow cover variance was associated with male genetic distance. My findings suggest that northward expanding anthropogenic disturbances have the potential to affect genetic connectivity. Overall, my findings suggest that (1) peripheral populations can harbour genetic variants not observed in core populations - increasing species genetic diversity; (2) historic bottlenecks can alter the genetic signature of glacial refugia, resulting in a disjunct distribution of unique genetic variants among contemporary populations; (3) increased temporal resolution of the individual-based genetic distance measure can help identify landscape features associated with genetic connectivity within a population, which may disrupt landscape connectivity. Author Keywords: conservation genetics, Holarctic species, landscape genetics, peripheral population, phylogeography, wolverine
Selection on functional genes across a flying squirrel (genus Glaucomys) hybrid zone
While hybridization between distinct taxa can have undesirable implications, it can also result in increased genetic variability and potentially, the exchange of adaptive genes or traits. Adaptive variation acquired through introgressive hybridization may be particularly advantageous for species facing rapid environmental change. I investigated a novel, climate change-induced hybrid zone between two flying squirrel species: the southern (Glaucomys volans) and northern (G. sabrinus) flying squirrel. I was interested in the occurrence of hybridization and introgression, the type of selective pressures maintaining the hybrid zone and the potential for adaptive introgression. I found relatively low hybridization and introgression frequencies (1.7% and 2.9% of the population, respectively) and no evidence of selection on hybrids or backcrosses in particular environments. I conclude that the data are more consistent with a hybrid zone maintained by endogenous (environment-independent) selection. I tested for adaptive introgression using two functional genes: IGF-1 and CLOCK. I documented intermediate functional allele frequencies in backcrosses compared to parental populations, suggesting the alleles do not confer fitness advantages in backcrosses. Despite lack of evidence for current adaptive introgression, genetic admixture between G. volans and G. sabrinus may provide adaptive potential should these species face more rapid or drastic environmental change in the future. Author Keywords: adaptive introgression, flying squirrel, Glaucomys sabrinus, Glaucomys volans, hybridization, introgression

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