Graduate Theses & Dissertations

Comparative phylogeography in conservation biology
Phylogeographic histories of taxa around the Great Lakes region in North America are relevant to a range of ongoing issues including conservation management and biological invasions. In this thesis I investigated the comparative phylogeographic histories of plant species with disjunct distributions and plant species with continuous distributions around the Great Lakes region; this is a very dynamic geographic area with relatively recent colonisation histories that have been influenced by a range of factors including postglacial landscape modifications, and more recently, human-mediated dispersion. I first characterized four species that have disjunct populations in the Great Lakes region: (Bartonia paniculata subsp. paniculata, Empetrum nigrum, Sporobolus heterolepis, and Carex richardsonii). Through comparisons of core and disjunct populations, I found that a range of historical processes have resulted in two broad scenarios: in the first scenario, genetically distinct disjunct and core populations diverged prior to the last glacial cycle, and in the second scenario more recent vicariant events have resulted in genetically similar core and disjunct populations. The former scenario has important implications for conservation management. I then characterized the Typha species complex (T. latifolia, T. angustifolia, T. x glauca), which collectively represent species with continuous distributions. Recent microevolutionary processes, including hybridization, introgression, and intercontinental dispersal, obscure the phylogeographic patterns and complicate the evolutionary history of Typha spp. around the Great Lakes region, and have resulted in the growing dominance of non-native lineages. A broader geographical comparison of Typha spp. lineages from around the world identified repeated cryptic dispersal and long-distant movement as important phylogeographic influences. This research has demonstrated that comparisons of regional and global evolutionary histories can provide insight into historical and contemporary processes useful for management decisions in conservation biology and invasive species. Author Keywords: chloroplast DNA, conservation genetics, disjunct populations, invasive species, phylogeography, postglacial recolonisation
Reproductive Fitness of Smallmouth Bass (Micropterus dolomieu) Under Heterogeneous Environmental Conditions
Identifying the biotic and abiotic factors that influence individual reproductive fitness under natural conditions is essential for understanding important aspects of a species’ evolutionary biology and ecology, population dynamics, and life-history evolution. Using next generation sequencing technology, I developed five microsatellite multiplex reactions suitable for conducting large scale parentage analysis of smallmouth bass, Micropterus dolomieu, and used molecular pedigree reconstruction techniques to characterize the genetic mating system and mate selection in adult smallmouth bass nesting in Lake Opeongo, Ontario, Canada. I used multivariate spatial autocorrelation analysis to indirectly infer the occurrence and extent of natal philopatry among spawning adults, to assess the strength and direction of sex-bias in natal dispersal patterns, and to evaluate the degree of nest site fidelity and breeding dispersal of spawning adults. I also evaluated how differences in littoral zone water temperature caused by wind-induced seiche events influence the relative reproductive success of spawning adults. Lastly, I provide a synopsis of potential future research aimed at further exploring factors that influence the reproductive fitness of smallmouth bass in Lake Opeongo. This information will contribute to our understanding of the factors regulating smallmouth bass populations, and provide insight into the factors controlling the variance in individual reproductive success and thus recruitment dynamics in this species. Author Keywords: Dispersal, Fitness, Mate selection, Mating systems, Philopatry
Evaluating the effects of landscape structure on genetic differentiation and diversity
The structure and composition of the landscape can facilitate or impede gene flow, which can have important consequences because genetically isolated groups of individuals may be prone to inbreeding depression and possible extinction. My dissertation examines how landscape structure influences spatial patterns of genetic differentiation and diversity of American marten (Martes americana) and Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis) in Ontario, Canada, and provides methodological advances useful for landscape geneticists. First, I identified the effects of map boundaries on estimates of landscape resistance, and proposed a solution to the bias: a buffer around the map boundary. Second, I assessed the sensitivity of a network-based estimate of genetic distance, conditional genetic distance, to incomplete sampling. I then used these landscape genetic tools in a pairwise, distance-based analysis of 653 martens genotyped at 12 microsatellite loci. I evaluated whether forest management in Ontario has influenced the genetic structure of martens. Although forest management practices had some impact, isolation by distance best described marten gene flow. Our results suggest that managed forests in Ontario are well connected for marten and do not impede marten gene flow. Finally, I used a site-based analysis of 702 lynx genotyped at 14 microsatellite loci to investigate spatial patterns of genetic diversity and differentiation at the trailing (contracting) edge of the lynx distribution in Ontario. I analyzed harvest records and found that the southern edge of lynx range has contracted by >175 km since the 1970s. I also found that neutral genetic diversity decreased towards the trailing edge, whereas genetic differentiation increased. Furthermore, I found strong correlations between gradients of lynx genetic structure and gradients of climate and land cover in Ontario. My findings suggest that increases in winter air temperature, decreases in snow depth, and loss of suitable habitat will result in further loss of genetic diversity in peripheral populations of lynx. Consequently, the adaptive potential of lynx populations on the southern range periphery could decline. In conclusion, my dissertation demonstrates the varying influences that contemporary landscape structure and climate gradients can have on genetic diversity and differentiation of different species. Author Keywords: Circuitscape, genetic network, landscape genetics, Lynx canadensis, Martes americana, range shift
Range dynamics of two closely related felids
Species ranges are changing and the rate at which the climate is warming is faster than anything previously seen in the past, consequently species will need to adapt quickly, track the climate or perish. Cold adapted terrestrial species are the most vulnerable, because they are limited by the availability of land at the cold edge of their range. This means that many alpine, boreal and polar species essentially have nowhere to go as the climate warms. Habitat generalists are widely distributed across the globe and are highly adaptable to anthropogenic change. Our future biodiversity may only consist of several habitat generalists. The Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis) is a boreal species that has limited range expansion potential at the cold end of its range and its range has already contracted by 40%. The lynx has nowhere to go as climate warming progresses in this current century. Therefore, understanding the causes of its range contraction could enlighten us on conservation and management strategies that we might undertake as climate warms. My analyses indicated that the Canada lynx seems to have tracked the habitat that it is adapted to in more northern homogenous boreal forests and the bobcat (Lynx rufus), a habitat generalist, has simply replaced it in the south. Author Keywords: Anthropogenic Change, Competition, Connectivity, Lynx canadensis, Lynx rufus, Range change
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
Phylogeography and Genetic Structuring of Moose (Alces alces) Populations in Ontario, Canada
Moose are an iconic species, known for their large size and impressive antlers. Eight subspecies are classified in circumpolar regions of the planet - four in North America. Two subspecies are similar in shape and size, the north-western moose (Alces alces andersoni) and the eastern moose (Alces alces americana). It was previously believed that these two subspecies meet in northern Ontario. Earlier genetic population studies used a small number of samples from Ontario, primarily in broad studies covering all of North America. A comprehensive genetic study of moose populations in Ontario has not previously been conducted. We examined the genetic diversity and population structure at 10 polymorphic loci using 776 samples from Ontario, as well as outgroups from representative populations – Manitoba/Cape Breton, representing A. a. andersoni, and New Brunswick/Nova Scotia, representing A. a. americana. Results indicated three genetic populations in the province, in north-western Ontario, north-eastern Ontario and south-central Ontario. RST values, compared against both FST and Jost’s D values for phylogenetic analyses, indicated no phylogenetic pattern which suggests no subspeciation present in the province. Population movement patterns in Ontario were studied. Gene flow was estimated using genetic and spatial data. Isolation by distance was only seen within the first distance class of 100 kilometres and then not seen again at further distances, indicating that moose display philopatry. There were very few migrants travelling across the province, with a greater number moving gradually north and west, towards better habitat and food sources. A forensic database in the form of an allele frequency table was created. Three loci showed very low levels of heterozygosity across all three populations. Probability of identity was calculated for the three populations and quantified. Samples with known geographic origins were run against the database to test for sensitivity, with identification of origin occurring at an accuracy level between 87 and 100%. Within Ontario, there are not two different subspecies, as previously believed, but two different populations of the same subspecies meeting in northern Ontario. The genetic data does not support previous research performed in Ontario. The sample sizes in our research also provide a more comprehensive view of the entire province not seen in any previous studies. The comprehensive research enabled the building of a reliable forensic database that can be used for both management and forensic purposes for the entire province. Author Keywords: Alces alces, Genetic Diversity, Moose, Ontario, Phylogeography, Subspecies
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

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