Graduate Theses & Dissertations

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
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
Investigating Ecological Niche Differentiation Among Wild Candids Experiencing Hybridization in Eastern North America
Currently there are large areas of the North American landscape that are occupied by Canis spp. hybrids of several varieties, leading to the logical question as to the genetic structure and ecological function of Canis populations across the continent, and to what extent hybrids reflect contemporary landscapes. This study illustrated patterns of niche differentiation between parental canid species and their hybrids using individual high quality genetic profile and species distribution models to support the intermediate phenotype hypothesis. In general, hybrids demonstrated an intermediate habitat suitability compared to its parental species, across most environmental variables used. A similar trend was observed in the niche metric analysis, where we found that hybrids exhibit intermediate niche breadth, with eastern coyotes and eastern wolves exhibiting the broader and narrower niche, respectively. Our results demonstrate that the intermediate phenotype hypothesis is supported even at a large scale and when involving highly mobile large mammal species. Author Keywords: canid, ecological niche modelling, hybridization, intermediate phenotype, microsatellite genotype, niche differentiation
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
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
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
Assessing Molecular and Ecological Differentiation in Wild Carnivores
Wild populations are notoriously difficult to study due to confounding stochastic variables. This thesis tackles two components of investigating wild populations. The first examines the use of niche modeling to quantify macro-scale predator-prey relationships in canid populations across eastern North America, while the second examines range-wide molecular structure in Canada lynx. The goal of the first chapter is to quantify niche characteristics in a Canis hybrid zone of C. lupus, C. lycaon, and C. latrans to better understand the ecological differentiation of these species, and to assess the impacts of incorporating biotic interactions into species distribution models. The goal of the second chapter is to determine if DNA methylation, an epigenetic marker that modifies the structure of DNA, can be used to differentiate populations, and might be a signature of local adaptation. Our results indicated that canids across the hybrid zone in eastern North America exhibit low levels of genetic and ecological differentiation, and that the importance of biotic interactions are largely lost at large spatial scales. We also identified cryptic structure in methylation patterns in Canada lynx populations, which suggest signatures of local adaptation, and indicate the utility of DNA methylation as a marker for investigating adaptive divergence. Author Keywords: Ecological Epigenetics, Ecological Genetics, SDM
Do birds of a feather flock together
Populations have long been delineated by physical barriers that appear to limit reproduction, yet increasingly genetic analysis reveal these delineations to be inaccurate. The eastern and mid-continent populations of sandhill cranes are expanding ranges which is leading to convergence and warrants investigation of the genetic structure between the two populations. Obtaining blood or tissue samples for population genetics analysis can be costly, logistically challenging, and may require permits as well as potential risk to the study species. Non-invasively collected genetic samples overcome these challenges, but present challenges in terms of obtaining high quality DNA for analysis. Therefore, methods that optimize the quality of non-invasive samples are necessary. In the following thesis, I examined factors affecting DNA quality and quantity obtained from shed feathers and examined population differentiation between eastern and mid-continent sandhill cranes. I found shed feathers are robust to environmental factors, but feather size should be prioritized to increase DNA quantity and quality. Further, I found little differentiation between eastern and mid-continent populations with evidence of high migration and isolation-by-distance. Thus, the two populations are not genetically discrete. I recommend future population models incorporate migration between populations to enhance our ability to successfully manage and reach conservation objectives. Author Keywords: feathers, genetic differentiation, non-invasive DNA, population genetics, population management, sandhill crane (Antigone canadensis)
Genomic architecture of artificially and sexually selected traits in white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus)
Understanding the complex genomic architecture underlying quantitative traits can provide valuable insight for the conservation and management of wildlife. Despite improvements in sequencing technologies, few empirical studies have identified quantitative trait loci (QTL) via whole genome sequencing in free-ranging mammal populations outside a few well-studied systems. This thesis uses high-depth whole genome pooled re-sequencing to characterize the molecular basis of the natural variation observed in two sexually selected, heritable traits in white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus, WTD). Specifically, sampled individuals representing the phenotypic extremes from an island population of WTD for antler and body size traits. Our results showed a largely homogenous genome between extreme phenotypes for each trait, with many highly differentiated regions throughout the genome, indicative of a quantitative model for polygenic traits. We identified and validated several potential QTL of putatively small-to-moderate effect for each trait, and discuss the potential for real-world application to conservation and management. Author Keywords: evolution, extreme phenotypes, genetics, genomics, quantitative traits, sexual selection
Investigating the regional variation in frequencies of the invasive hybrid cattail, Typha × glauca
Interspecific hybridization rates can vary depending on genomic compatibilities between progenitors, while subsequent hybrid spread can vary depending on hybrid performance and habitat availability for hybrid establishment and persistence. As a result, hybridization rates and hybrid frequencies can vary across regions of parental sympatry. In areas around the Laurentian Great Lakes, Typha × glauca is an invasive plant hybrid of native Typha latifolia and introduced Typha angustifolia. In areas of parental sympatry in Atlantic Canada and outside of North America, T. × glauca has been reported as either rare or non-existent. I investigated whether the low frequencies of hybrids documented in Nova Scotia, Atlantic Canada, are influenced by reproductive barriers that prevent hybrid formation or environmental factors (salinity) that reduce hybrid performance. I identified an abundance of hybrids in the Annapolis Valley (inland) and a scarcity of hybrids in coastal wetlands through preliminary site surveys throughout Nova Scotia. In Annapolis Valley populations, flowering times of progenitor species overlapped, indicating that asynchronous flowering times do not limit hybrid formation in this region. Viable progeny were created from interspecific crosses of T. latifolia and T. angustifolia from Nova Scotia, indicating that there are no genomic barriers to fertilization and germination of hybrid seeds. Typha × glauca germination in high salinity was significantly lower than that of T. latifolia, but there was no difference at lower salinities. Therefore, while germination of hybrid seeds may be impeded in the coastal wetlands where salinity is high, inland sites have lower salinity and thus an environment conducive to hybrid germination. However, I found that once established as seedlings, hybrids appear to have greater performance over T. latifolia across all salinities through higher ramet production. Moreover, I found that T. latifolia sourced from Ontario had reduced germination and lower survivorship in high salinities compared to T. latifolia sourced from Nova Scotia, which could indicate local adaptation by T. latifolia to increased salinity. These findings underline that interactions between environment and local progenitor lineages can influence the viability and the consequent distribution and abundance of hybrids. This, in turn, can help explain why hybrids demonstrate invasiveness in some areas of parental sympatry but remain largely absent from other areas. Author Keywords: flowering phenology, Hybridization, invasive species, physiology, pollen compatibility, salinity tolerance
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

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