Graduate Theses & Dissertations

Ecosystem Response to Above Canopy Nitrogen Addition in a Jack Pine (Pinus banksiana) Forest in the Athabasca Bituminous Sands Region of Northeastern Alberta, Canada
In this study we seek to better understand the potential effects of short-term (5-year) N fertilization on jack pine forest biogeochemistry, vascular plant community composition and to project a temporal endpoint of nitrogen leaching below the major rooting zone. Aqueous ammonium nitrate (NH4NO3) was applied above the forest canopy across five treatment plots (20 x 80 m) four times annually. The experimental deposition gradient followed those known for localized areas around the major open pit operations at 0, 5, 10, 15, 20 and 25 kg N ha-1 yr-1 over a five-year period (2011 – 2015). Nitrate recovery in throughfall was significantly higher than NH4+ (p < 0.05), indicating canopy NH4+ immobilization. There was a strong treatment effect (p < 0.05) of N on the epiphytic lichen thalli concentrations of Hypogymnia physodes and Evernia mesomorpha after five years. The canopy appeared to approach saturation at the highest deposition load (25 kg N ha-1 yr-1) during the fifth year of N additions as most N added above the canopy was accounted for in throughfall and stemflow. The non-vascular (lichen and moss) vegetation pool above the forest floor was the largest receptor of N as cryptogam foliar and thalli N concentrations showed a significant treatment effect (p < 0.05). Nitrogen in decomposing litter (25 kg N ha-1 yr-1) remained immobilized after five years, while treatments ≤ 20 kg N ha-1 yr-1 started to mobilize. Understory vascular plant cover expansion was muted when deposition was ≥ 10 kg N ha-1 yr-1. Finally, modeling suggests the forest may not leach N below the rooting zone until around 50 years after chronic addition begin (25 kg N ha-1 yr-1). The modeling results are consistent with empirical data from a high exposure (~20 - 25 kg N ha-1 yr-1) jack pine site approximately 12 km west of the experimental site that has not yet experienced N leaching. Author Keywords: Biogeochemistry, Canopy, Deposition, Jack Pine, Nitrogen, Understory
Molecular Composition of Dissolved Organic Matter Controls Metal Speciation and Microbial Uptake
Aquatic contaminant mobility and biological availability is strongly governed by the complexation of organic and inorganic ligands. Dissolved organic matter (DOM) is a complex, heterogeneous mixture of organic acids, amino acids, lipids, carbohydrates and polyphenols that vary in composition and can complex to dissolved metals thereby altering their fate in aquatic systems. The research conducted in this doctoral dissertation addresses 1) how DOM composition differs between phytoplankton taxa and 2) how DOM composition affects metal speciation and its subsequent microbial bioavailability in laboratory and field conditions. To accomplish this, a series of analytical methods were developed and applied to quantify thiols, sulphur containing DOM moieties, and the molecular composition of DOM. The works presented in this thesis represents one of the first comprehensive and multipronged analyses of the impact of phytoplankton metabolite exudates on microbial metal bioavailability. This dissertation demonstrated the analytical versatility of high-resolution mass spectrometry as a tool for compound specific information, as well as having the capabilities to obtain speciation information of organometallic complexes. The work presented in this PhD strengthens the understanding compositional differences of both autochthonous and allochthonous DOM and their effects on metal biogeochemistry. Author Keywords: Dissolved Organic Matter, Mercury, Metal Accumulation, Phytoplankton, Spring Melts, Thiol
Identification and Quantification of Organic Selenium Species Produced by Microbiological Activity in Freshwater Environments
Despite being an essential nutrient at trace levels, selenium can be devastating to aquatic environments when present in excess. There is no apparent correlation between total aqueous selenium concentrations and observed toxic effects because bioaccumulation varies over several orders of magnitude depending on the chemical species of selenium and the biological species present in the lowest trophic level of the aquatic food chain. Despite being used in toxicity models due to its high bioavailability, free selenomethionine had not been found previously in the environment outside of a biological entity. Here, it is confirmed that selenomethionine is produced during the biological treatment of selenium-contaminated wastewater, and released in the effluent along with other discrete organic selenium species, including selenomethionine oxide. This identification followed the development of a rigorous preconcentration and cleanup procedure, allowing for the analysis of these organic selenium species in high-ionic strength matrices. A newly optimized anion-exchange chromatographic separation was coupled to inductively-coupled plasma mass spectrometry for the simultaneous quantification of these organic selenium species along with the more ubiquitous selenium oxyanions, selenite and selenate. This separation method was also coupled to electrospray tandem mass spectrometry for structural confirmation of selenomethionine and selenomethionine oxide. High resolution orbitrap mass spectrometry was used to identify another oxidation product of selenomethionine – a cyclic species which was tentatively identified, by coelution, in a selenium-contaminated river water sample. The production and release of selenomethionine, selenomethionine oxide, Se-(methyl) selenocysteine, and methyl selenic acid were observed for various laboratory algal cultures. Once the presence of free selenomethionine in a water system was confirmed, factors affecting its uptake into algal cultures were examined. The uptake of selenomethionine into Scenedesmus obliquus was noted to be significantly higher under low nitrate conditions, where it was incorporated into selenium-containing proteins more readily than at higher nitrate conditions where other metabolites were produced. With the increasing popularity of biological treatment systems for the remediation of selenium-contaminated waters, these observations, combined with existing knowledge, could be used to make predictions regarding the potential toxicity of selenium in various environmental scenarios. Author Keywords: bioremediation, electrospray mass spectrometry, inductively-coupled plasma mass spectrometry, selenium, selenoamino acids, selenomethionine
Nutrient Metabolism of an Aquatic Invertebrate and its Importance to Ecology
Aquatic consumers frequently face nutritional limitation, caused in part, by imbalances between the nutrients supplied by primary producers and the metabolic demands of the consumers. These nutritional imbalances alter many ecological processes including consumer life-history traits, population dynamics, and food web properties. Given the important ecological role of organismal nutrition, there is a need to have precise and specific indicators of nutritional stress in animals. Despite this need, current methods used to study nutrition are unable to distinguish between different types of nutritional limitation. Here I studied nutritional metabolism in the freshwater zooplankter, Daphnia. A greater understanding of nutritional metabolism would allow for the development of dietary bio-indicators that could improve the study of the nutritional ecology of animal consumers. Specifically, I addressed the question: What affects the biochemical composition of a generalist aquatic consumer? My overall hypothesis was that the quantity and quality of the diet affects the biochemical composition in a nutrient specific manner. To test this hypothesis, I examined various response variables involved in nutrient metabolism such as alkaline phosphatase activity, whole metabolome, and free amino acid composition. For each response variable, I grew Daphnia under various nutritional stressors and determined if responses are nutrient specific or are a general stress response. I found the current method of measuring alkaline phosphatase was not a phosphorus specific indicator, as activity increased in all nutrient stressed treatments. Analyzing the whole metabolome resulted in nutritional stressors being separated in multivariate space, with many identified metabolites being significantly different from nutrient rich Daphnia. Upon further examination the daphnids free amino acids profiles are caused by differences between the supply of amino acids from the algae and the demand within the Daphnia. These differences in supply and demand resulted in the ability to classify the nutritional status of Daphnia with the use of discriminant analysis, a classification multivariate model. In addition to a deeper understanding and advanced knowledge of the physiological changes caused by nutrient limitation, this research has provided strong evidence for the application of nutritional biomarkers/profiles to identified the nutritional status of Daphnia. Author Keywords: Bio-indictor, Ecological stoichiometry, Metabolism, Nutritional limitation, Nutritional status
Size and fluorescence properties of allochthonous dissolved organic matter
Dissolved organic matter (DOM) is a mixture of molecules with dynamic structure and composition that are ubiquitous in aquatic systems. DOM has several important functions in both natural and engineered systems, such as supporting microorganisms, governing the toxicity of metals and other pollutants, and controlling the fate of dissolved carbon. The structure and composition of DOM determine its reactivity, and hence its effectiveness in these ecosystem functions. While the structure, composition, and reactivity of riverine and marine DOM have been previously investigated, those of allochthonous DOM collected prior to exposure to microbes and sunlight have received scant attention. The following dissertation constitutes the first in-depth study of the structure, composition, and reactivity of allochthonous DOM at its point of origin (i.e. leaf leachates, LLDOM), as detected by measuring its size and optical properties. Concomitantly, novel chemometric methods were developed to interpret size-resolved data obtained using asymmetrical flow field-flow fractionation, including spectral deconvolution and the application of machine learning algorithms such as self-organizing maps to fluorescence data using a dataset of more than 1000 fluorescence excitation-emission matrices. The size and fluorescence properties of LLDOM are highly distinct. Indeed, LLDOM was correctly classified as one of 13 species/sources with 92.5% accuracy based on its fluorescence composition, and LLDOM was distinguished from riverine DOM sampled from eight different rivers with 98.3% accuracy. Additionally, both fluorescence and size properties were effective conservative tracers of DOC contribution in pH-controlled mixtures of leaf leachates and riverine DOM over two weeks. However, the structure of LLDOM responded differently to pH changes for leaves/needles from different tree species, and for older needles. Structural changes were non-reversible. Copper-binding strength (log K) differed for the different fluorescent components of DOM in a single allochthonous source by more than an order of magnitude (4.73 compared to 6.11). Biotransformation preferentially removed protein/polyphenol-like fluorescence and altered copper-binding parameters: log K increased from 4.7 to 5.5 for one fluorescent component measured by fluorescence quenching, but decreased from 7.2 to 5.8 for the overall DOM, as measured using voltammetry. The complexing capacity of DOM increased in response to biotransformation for both fluorescent and total DOM. The relationship between fluorescence and size properties was consistent for fresh allochthonous DOM, but differed in aged material. Since the size and fluorescence properties of LLDOM are strikingly different from those of riverine DOM, deeper investigation into transformative pathways and mixing processes is required to elucidate the contribution of riparian plant species to DOM signatures in rivers. Author Keywords: Analytical chemistry, Chemometrics, Dissolved organic matter (DOM), Field-flow fractionation, Fluorescence spectroscopy, Parallel factor analysis (PARAFAC)
The objective of this thesis was to assess the influence of anthropogenic sulphur (S) and nitrogen (N) deposition, and harvesting on soil acidity and calcium (Ca2+), magnesium (Mg2+), potassium (K+) and N soil pools in plantation forest soils in Ireland. The response to reductions in anthropogenic S deposition was assessed using temporal trends in soil solution chemistry at two long-term monitoring plots--one on a blanket peat, the other on a peaty podzol. At the peat site, there was little evidence of a response to reductions in throughfall non marine sulphate (nmSO42-) and acidity; soil water acidity was determined by organic acids. In addition, temporal variation in soil water did not respond to that in throughfall. In the podzol, reductions in anthropogenic S and H+ deposition led to a significant improvement in soil water chemistry at 75 cm; pH increased and total aluminum (Altot) concentrations declined. The impact of harvest scenarios on exchangeable Ca2+, Mg2+ and K+ pools was assessed using input-output budgets at 40 sites (30 spruce, 10 pine). Harvest scenarios were stem-only harvest (SOH), stem plus branch harvest (SBH) and stem, branch and needle harvest (whole-tree harvesting; WTH). Average K+ and Mg2+ budgets were positive under these scenarios. However, exchangeable K+ pools were small and due to uncertainty in K+ budgets, could be depleted within one rotation. Average Ca2+ budgets for spruce were balanced under SOH, but negative under SBH and WTH. Nitrogen deposition was high, between 5 and 19 kg N ha-1 yr-1, but was balanced by N removal in SOH. However, N budgets were under SBH and WTH, indicating that these harvesting methods would lead to depletion of soil N over the long-term. Finally, monitoring of N cycling at a spruce plot indicated that N deposition was contributing to large NO3- leaching, and as such the site was N saturated. However, N cycling did not fit the criteria of the N saturation hypothesis; instead leaching was directly related to N deposition and supported the model of kinetic N saturation. Author Keywords: acidic deposition, base cations, input-output budgets, Ireland, nitrogen, whole-tree harvesting
Hydroclimatic and spatial controls on stream nutrient export from forested catchments
Winter nutrient export from forested catchments is extremely variable from year-to-year and across the landscape of south-central Ontario. Understanding the controls on this variability is critical, as what happens during the winter sets up the timing and nature of the spring snowmelt, the major period of export for water and nutrients from seasonally snow-covered forests. Furthermore, winter processes are especially vulnerable to changes in climate, particularly to shifts in precipitation from snow to rain as air temperatures rise. The objective of this thesis was to assess climatic and topographic controls on variability in stream nutrient export from a series of forested catchments in south-central Ontario. The impacts of climate on the timing and magnitude of winter stream nutrient export, with particular focus on the impact of winter rain-on-snow (ROS) events was investigated through a) analysis of long-term hydrological, chemical and meteorological records and b) high frequency chemical and isotopic measurements of stream and snow samples over two winters. The relationship between topography and variability in stream chemistry among catchments was investigated through a) a series of field and laboratory incubations to measure rates and discern controls on nitrogen mineralization and nitrification and b) analysis of high resolution spatial data to assess relationships between topographic metrics and seasonal stream chemistry. Warmer winters with more ROS events were shown to shift the bulk of nitrate (NO3-N) export earlier in the winter at the expense of spring export; this pattern was not observed in other nutrients [i.e. dissolved organic carbon (DOC), total phosphorus (TP), sulphate (SO4), calcium (Ca)]. Hydrograph separation revealed the majority of ROS flow came from baseflow, but the NO3-N concentrations in rainfall and melting snow were so high that the majority of NO3-N export was due to these two sources. Other nutrient concentrations did not show such a great separation between sources, and thus event export of these nutrients was not as great. Proportionally, catchments with varying topography responded similarly to ROS events, but the absolute magnitude of export varied substantially, due to differences in baseflow NO3-N concentrations. Field and laboratory incubations revealed differences in rates of net NO3-N production between wetland soils and upland soils, suggesting that topographic differences amongst catchments may be responsible for differences in baseflow NO3-N. Spatial analysis of digital elevation models revealed strong relationships between wetland coverage and DOC and dissolved organic nitrogen (DON) concentrations in all seasons, but relationships between topography and NO3-N were often improved by considering only the area within 50 or 100m of the stream channel. This suggests nutrient cycling processes occurring near the stream channel may exert a stronger control over NO3-N stream outflow chemistry. Overall, topography and climate exert strong controls over spatial and temporal variability in stream chemistry at forested catchments; it is important to consider the interaction of these two factors when predicting the effects of future changes in climate or deposition. Author Keywords: biogeochemistry, forest, nitrate, south-central Ontario, stream chemistry, winter
Investigating the sources and fate of monomethylmercury and dimethylmercury in the Arctic marine boundary layer and waters
Monomethylmercury (MMHg), the most bioavailable form of mercury (Hg) and a potent neurotoxin, is present at elevated concentrations in Arctic marine mammals posing serious health threats to the local populations relying on marine food for their subsistence living. The sources of MMHg in the Arctic Ocean surface water and the role of dimethylmercury (DMHg) as a source of MMHg remain unclear. The objective of this research was to determine the sources and fate of methylated Hg species (MMHg and DMHg) in the marine ecosystem by investigating processes controlling the presence of methylated Hg species in the Arctic Ocean marine boundary layer (MBL) and surface waters. A method based on solid phase adsorption on Bond Elut ENV was developed and successfully used for unprecedented measurement of methylated Hg species in the MBL in Hudson Bay (HB) and the Canadian Arctic Archipelago (CAA). MMHg and DMHg concentrations averaged 2.9 ± 3.6 (mean ± SD) and 3.8 ± 3.1 pg m-3, respectively, and varied significantly among sampling sites. MMHg in the MBL is suspected to be the product of marine DMHg degradation in the atmosphere. MMHg summer (June to September) atmospheric wet deposition rates were estimated to be 188 ± 117.5 ng m-2 and 37 ± 21.7 ng m-2 for HB and CAA, respectively, sustaining MMHg concentrations available for bio-magnification in the pelagic food web. The production and loss of methylated Hg species in surface waters was assessed using enriched stable isotope tracers. MMHg production in surface water was observed from methylation of inorganic Hg (Hg(II)) and, for the first time, from DMHg demethylation with experimentally derived rate constants of 0.92 ± 0.82 x 10-3 d-1 and 0.04 ± 0.02 d-1 respectively. DMHg demethyation rate constant (0.98 ± 0.51 d-1) was higher than that of MMHg (0.35 ± 0.25 d-1). Furthermore, relationships with environmental parameters suggest that methylated Hg species transformations in surface water are mainly biologically driven. We propose that in addition to Hg(II) methylation, the main processes controlling MMHg production in the Arctic Ocean surface waters are DMHg demethylation and deposition of atmospheric MMHg. These results are valuable for a better understanding of the cycle of methylated Hg in the Arctic marine environment. Author Keywords: Arctic Ocean, Atmosphere, Demethylation, Dimethylmercury, Methylation, Monomethylmercury

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