Graduate Theses & Dissertations


Spatial Dynamics of Wind Pollination in Broadleaf Cattail (Typha latifolia)
Natural populations of flowering plants rarely have perfectly uniform distributions, so trends in pollen dispersal should affect the size of the pollination neighbourhood and influence mating opportunities. Here I used spatial analysis to determine the size of the pollination neighbourhood in a stand of the herbaceous, wind-pollinated plant (Typha latifolia; broad-leaved cattail) by evaluating patterns of pollen production and seed set by individual cattail shoots. I found a positive correlation between pollen production and seed set among near-neighbour shoots (i.e., within 4 m2 patches of the stand; Pearson's r = 0.235, p < 0.05, df = 77) that was not driven by a correlation between these variables within inflorescences (Pearson's r = 0.052, p > 0.45, df = 203). I also detected significant spatial autocorrelations in seed set over short distances (up to ~ 5 m) and a significant cross-correlation between pollen production and seed set over distances of < 1 m indicating that the majority of pollination events involve short distances. Patterns of pollen availability were simulated to explore the shape of the pollen dispersal curve. Simulated pollen availability fit actual patterns of seed set only under assumptions of highly restricted pollen dispersal. Together, these findings indicate that even though Typha latifolia produces copious amounts of pollen, the vast majority of pollen dispersal was highly localized to distances of ~ 1 m. Moreover, although Typha latifolia is self-compatible and has been described as largely selfing, my results are more consistent with the importance of pollen transfer between nearby inflorescences. Therefore, realized selfing rates of Typha latifolia should largely depend on the clonal structure of populations. Author Keywords: clonal structure, correlogram, dispersal curves, pollination, spatial analysis, Typha latifolia
Constraints on phenotypic plasticity in response to predation risk
Inducible defenses are plastic responses by an organism to the perception of predation risk. This dissertation focuses on three experiments designed to test the hypothesis that plastic ability is limited by energetic constraints. Chapter 1 provides a general introduction to phenotypic plasticity research and the theoretical costs and limitations affecting the expression of plastic traits. In Chapter 2, I tested the hypothesis that costs of early plasticity may be manifested by a reduced response to risk in later life stages. I found that amphibian embryos are able to detect and respond to larval predators, but that the energetic cost of those plastic responses are not equivalent among behavioural, growth, and morphological traits, and their expression differs between closely-related species. Chapter 3 explicitly examines the relationship between food resource availability and plasticity in response to perceived predation risk during larval development. Food-restricted tadpoles showed limited responses to predation risk; larvae at food saturation altered behaviour, development, and growth in response to predation risk. Responses to risk varied through time, suggesting ontogeny may affect the deployment of particular defensive traits. Chapter 4 examines the influence of maternal investment into propagule size on the magnitude of the plastic responses to predation risk in resulting offspring. I found that females in better body condition laid larger eggs and that these eggs, in turn, hatched into larvae that showed greater morphological plasticity in response to predation risk. Maternal investment can therefore affect the ability of offspring to mount morphological defenses to predation risk. Last, Chapter 5 provides a synthesis of my research findings, identifying specific factors constraining the plastic responses of prey to perceived predation risk. Overall, I found constraints on plastic responses imposed by the current environment experienced by the organism (resource availability), the prior experience of the organism (predator cues in the embryonic environment), and even the condition of the previous generation (maternal body condition and reproductive investment). Together, these findings both provide new knowledge and create novel research questions regarding constraints limiting phenotypic variation in natural populations. Author Keywords: behaviour, inducible defense, Lithobates pipiens, morphometrics, phenotypic plasticity, predation risk
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
Bank Swallow (Riparia riparia) Breeding in Aggregate Pits and Natural Habitats
I examined Bank Swallow (Riparia riparia) colony persistence and occupancy, in lakeshore, river and man-made aggregate pit habitat. Habitat persistence was highest on the lakeshore and lowest in aggregate pits, likely due to annual removal and relocation of aggregate resources. Bank Swallow colonies in aggregate pit sites were more likely to persist if a colony was larger or if burrows were located higher on the nesting face. I also compared nest productivity and health factors of Bank Swallows in lakeshore and aggregate pit habitats. While clutch size was the same in both habitat types, the number of fledglings from successfully hatched nests was significantly higher in aggregate pit sites than from lakeshore sites. Mass of fledgling Bank Swallows did not differ significantly between habitat types, however mass of adults from aggregate pits decreased significantly over the nesting season. Parasite loads on fledgling Bank Swallows were significantly lower in aggregate pits than in lakeshore sites. According to these indicators, aggregate pits appear to provide equivalent or higher quality habitat for Bank Swallows than the natural lakeshore sites, making them adequate and potentially key for this species’ recovery. Aggregate pit operators can manage for swallows by (1) creating longer, taller faces to attract birds and decrease predation, and (2) supplementing their habitat with water sources to encourage food availability. Author Keywords: Aerial insectivore, aggregate pits, Bank Swallow, colony persistence, ectoparasites, substitute habitat
Effects of Silver Nanoparticles on Lower Trophic Levels in Aquatic Ecosystems
Due to their effective antibacterial and antifungal properties, silver nanoparticles (AgNPs) have quickly become the most commonly used nanomaterial, with applications in industry, medicine and consumer products. This increased use of AgNPs over the past decade will inevitably result in an elevated release of nanoparticles into the environment, highlighting the importance of assessing the environmental impacts of these nanomaterials on aquatic ecosystems. Although numerous laboratory studies have already reported on the negative effects of AgNPs to freshwater organisms, only a handful of studies have investigated the impacts of environmentally relevant levels of AgNPs on whole communities under natural conditions. This thesis examines the effects of chronic AgNP exposure on natural freshwater littoral microcrustacean, benthic macroinvertebrate and pelagic zooplankton communities. To assess the responses of these communities to AgNPs, I focused on a solely field-based approach, combining a six-week mesocosm study with a three-year whole lake experiment at the IISD – Experimental Lakes Area (Ontario, Canada). Our mesocosm study tested the effects of AgNP concentration (low, medium and high dose), surface coating (citrate- and polyvinylpyrrolidone [PVP]-coated AgNPs), and type of exposure (chronic and pulsed addition) on benthic macroinvertebrates in fine and stony sediments. Relative abundances of metal-tolerant Chironomidae in fine sediments were highest in high dose PVP-AgNP treatments; however, no negative effects of AgNP exposure were seen on biodiversity metrics or overall community structure throughout the study. I observed similar results within the whole lake study that incorporated a long-term addition of low levels of AgNPs to an experimental lake. Mixed-effects models and multivariate methods revealed a decline in all species of the littoral microcrustacean family Chydoridae in the final year of the study within our experimental lake, suggesting that this taxon may be sensitive to AgNP exposure; however, these effects were fairly subtle and were not reflected in the overall composition of littoral communities. No other negative effects of AgNPs were observed on the pelagic zooplankton or benthic macroinvertebrate communities. My results demonstrate that environmentally relevant levels of AgNPs have little impact on natural freshwater microcrustacean and benthic macroinvertebrate communities. Instead, biodiversity metrics and community structure are primarily influenced by seasonal dynamics and nutrient concentrations across both lakes. This thesis highlights the importance of incorporating environmental conditions and the natural variability of communities when examining the potential risks posed by the release of AgNPs into the environment, as simplistic laboratory bioassays may not provide an adequate assessment of the long-term impacts of AgNPs on freshwater systems. Author Keywords: Benthic macroinvertebrates, IISD - Experimental Lakes Area, Littoral microcrustaceans, Silver nanoparticles, Whole lake experiment, Zooplankton
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
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
Comparing Biological Responses to Contaminants in Darters (Etheostoma spp.) Collected from Rural and Urban Regions of the Grand River Watershed, Ontario
Urban and agricultural activities may introduce chemical stressors, including contaminants of emerging concern (CECs) and current use pesticides (CUPs) into riverine systems. The objective of this study was to determine if fish collected from sites in a river show biomarkers of exposure to these classes of contaminants, and if the biomarker patterns vary in fish collected from urbanized and agricultural sites. The watershed selected for this study was the Grand River in southern Ontario, which transitions from areas dominated by agricultural land use in the north to highly urbanized locations in the southern part of the watershed. Rainbow darters (Etheostoma caerluem) and fantail darters (Etheostoma flabellare) were collected from the Grand River in June, 2014 for biomarker analysis from two urbanized sites and three agricultural sites (n=20 per site). Over the same period of time, Polar Organic Chemical Integrative Samplers (POCIS) were deployed for 2 weeks at each site to monitor for the presence of CUPs and CECs. The amounts of the target compounds accumulated on POCIS, determined using LC-MS/MS were used to estimate the time weighted average concentrations of the contaminants at each site. Data on the liver somatic index for darters indicate site-specific differences in this condition factor (p<0.05). Significant differences in the concentrations of thiobarbituric acid reactive substances (TBARS) in gill tissue (p<0.05) indicate differences in oxidative stress in fish collected from the various sites. Measured concentrations of ethoxyresorufin-O-deethylase (EROD) in liver tissue were significantly different between sites (p<0.05), indicating differences in CYP1A metabolic activity. Finally, acetylcholinesterase (AChE) activity in brain tissue was significantly different between fish from rural and urban sites (p<0.05). The analysis of these biomarkers indicates that fish may be experiencing different levels of biological stress related to different land uses. These data may be useful in developing mitigation strategies to reduce impacts on fish and other aquatic organisms in the watershed. Author Keywords: AChE, Biomarker, Darter, EROD, POCIS, TBARS
Habitat use within and among roosts of chimney swifts (Chaetura pelagica)
Chimney swifts are listed as Threatened nationally and in many provinces within Canada due to rapid population declines. I examined large-scale spatial variation in the maximum size of chimney swift roosts at the northern edge of their range to identify where larger roosts occur. I used multi-sourced data collected across Ontario and Quebec between 1998 and 2013. I found that larger roosts were found at more northerly latitudes, and that very large roosts (>1000 birds) only occurred north of 45°. I also investigated fine-scale patterns of chimney swift positioning inside one of the largest roosts in Ontario. Using digitally recorded images, I calculated the angular position of swifts inside the roost relative to ambient and roost temperature. I found that swifts showed a strong preference for clinging to the south facing wall and clustered more when ambient air temperature was warmer. Thus, huddling in swifts provides additional or alternate benefits, other than serving purely to reduce costs of thermoregulation at low ambient temperatures. This research contributes to the understanding of chimney swift roosting ecology and identifies large roosting sites that should be retained for conservation. Author Keywords: chimney swift, communal roosting, conservation, group size, social thermoregulation, species-at-risk
role of corticosterone in breeding effort and reproductive success in tree swallows
Glucocorticoids (e.g., corticosterone (CORT)) are hypothesized to mediate decisions regarding reproductive investment during breeding, but the directionality of the relationship is not clear. The CORT-fitness hypothesis posits that high levels of CORT arise from challenging environmental conditions in which an individual will conserve resources for future reproduction or self-maintenance, and thus result in lower reproductive success (a negative relationship). In contrast, the CORT-adaptation hypothesis suggests that, during energetically demanding periods, CORT will mediate physiological or behavioural changes that result in increased reproductive investment and success (a positive relationship). Inconsistencies arise due to the various species and life-history stages studied, and the complex interactions between fitness and glucocorticoids. Using an experimental approach, I investigated the relationship between CORT and reproductive success by manipulating baseline CORT levels in female tree swallows Tachycineta bicolor prior to laying using silastic implants. Implants failed to raise CORT levels of females during either incubation or the nestling stage, and maternal treatment had no effect on indices of fitness at either stage. Using a correlative approach, partial support for the CORT-adaptation hypothesis was found: There was a positive relationship between CORT and hatching success. This only occurred when CORT was measured during incubation, when baseline CORT levels may stimulate increased reproductive effort and success. In contrast, during the nestling stage baseline CORT levels were not related to reproductive investment or success. Maternal CORT levels during incubation also did not influence nestling phenotype, although nestling stress CORT levels were higher in individuals that survived to fledging. In conclusion, CORT mediates reproductive effort and success during some breeding stages, but it is still unclear why this is the case and whether this same pattern will prevail in other contexts. Author Keywords: corticosterone, HPA axis, maternal effects, reproductive success, tree swallow
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
Ice age fish in a warming world
In the face of climate change, the persistence of cold-adapted species and populations will depend on their capacity for evolutionary adaptation of physiological traits. As a cold-adapted Ice Age relict species, lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush) are ideal for studying potential effects of climate change on coldwater fishes. I studied the thermal acclimation capacity and aerobic metabolism of age 2+ lake trout from four populations across four acclimation temperatures (8ºC, 11ºC, 15ºC, and 19ºC). One population had marginally significant higher active metabolic rate (AMR) and metabolic scope across all temperatures. There was no interpopulation variation for critical thermal maximum (CTM), standard metabolic rate (SMR), or thermal acclimation capacity. Acclimation resulted in a 3ºC increase in thermal tolerance and 3-fold increase in SMR for all populations. At 19ºC, SMR increased and AMR declined, resulting in sharply reduced metabolic scope for all populations. The limited intraspecific variation in thermal physiology suggests that climate change may threaten lake trout at the species rather than population level. Author Keywords: Climate Change, Lake Trout, Metabolic Rate, Salvelinus namaycush, Temperature, Thermal Acclimation


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