Graduate Theses & Dissertations

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Population Genetics and Gut Microbiome Composition Reveal Subdivisions and Space Use in a Generalist and Specialist Ungulate
Natural populations are often difficult and costly to study, due to the plethora of confounding processes and variables present. This is of particular importance when dealing with managed species. Ungulates, for example, act as both consumers and prey sources; they also provide economic benefit through harvest, and as such, are of high ecological and economic value. I addressed conservation and management concerns by quantifying subdivision in wild populations and combined movement with non-invasive sampling to provide novel insight on the physiological drivers of space use in multiple species. This thesis explored biological patterns in ungulates using two distinct approaches: the first used molecular genetics to quantify gene flow, while the second examined the relationship between movement and the gut microbiome using high-throughput sequencing and GPS tracking. The goal of the first chapter was to quantify gene flow and assess the population structure of mountain goats (Oreamnos americanus) in northern British Columbia (BC) to inform management. I used microsatellites to generate genotype data and used a landscape genetics framework to evaluate the possible drivers behind genetic differentiation. The same analyses were performed at both a broad and fine scale, assessing genetic differentiation between populations in all of northern BC and in a case management study area northeast of Smithers BC. The results indicated panmixia among mountain goats regardless of scale, suggesting distance and landscape resistance were minimally inhibiting gene flow. Therefore, management at local scales can continue with little need for genetically informed boundaries, but regulations should be tailored to specific regions incorporating data on local access and harvest pressure. My second chapter aimed to determine the extent to which the gut microbiome drives space-use patterns in a specialist (mountain goat) and generalist (white-tailed deer, Odocoileus virginianus) ungulate. Using fecal samples, we generated genomic data using 16S rRNA high-throughput sequencing to evaluate gut diversity and gut microbiome characteristics. Additionally, individuals were fitted with GPS collars so that we could gain insight into movement patterns. Gut microbiome metrics were stronger predictors of space use and movement patterns with respect to home range size, whereas they were weaker predictors of habitat use. Notably, factors of both the gut microbiome and age of a given species were correlated with changes in space use and habitat use. Ultimately, this research linked high-throughput sequencing and GPS data to better understand ecological processes in wild ungulates. Author Keywords: gene flow, genomics, gut microbiome, home range, population genetic structure, ungulates
Comparative efficacy of eDNA and conventional methods for monitoring wetland anuran communities
Identifying population declines and mitigating biodiversity loss require reliable monitoring techniques, but complex life histories and cryptic characteristics of anuran species render conventional monitoring challenging and ineffective. Environmental DNA (eDNA) detection is a highly sensitive and minimally invasive alternative to conventional anuran monitoring. In this study, I conducted a field experiment in 30 natural wetlands to compare efficacy of eDNA detection via qPCR to three conventional methods (visual encounter, breeding call, and larval dipnet surveys) for nine anuran species. eDNA and visual encounter surveys detected the greatest species richness, with eDNA methods requiring the fewest sampling events. However, community composition results differed among methods, indicating that even top performing methods missed species detections. Overall, the most effective detection method varied by species, with some species requiring two to three methods to make all possible detections. Further, eDNA detection rates varied by sampling season for two species (A. americanus and H. versicolor), suggesting that species-specific ecology such as breeding and larval periods play an important role in eDNA presence. These findings suggest that optimized monitoring of complex anuran communities may require two or more monitoring methods selected based on the physiology and biology of all target species. Author Keywords: amphibian, anuran, conventional monitoring, eDNA, environmental DNA, species richness
Assessing Brook Trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) Seasonal Occupancy in Haliburton County, ON Using Environmental DNA
Brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) are declining across Ontario in both numbers and distribution, prompting concern for their future. Here, conventional, emerging, and predictive tools were combined to document brook trout occupation across seasons using streams in Haliburton County, ON as model systems. By using the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry’s (OMNRFs) Aquatic Ecosystem Classification (AEC) system variables with environmental DNA (eDNA) sampling and backpack electrofishing, my research supports the development of species occupancy models (SOMs) and eDNA as tools to document brook trout occurrence. To do this, eDNA sampling was validated in Canadian Shield stream environments by comparison with single-pass backpack electrofishing before seasonally sampling two river systems across their main channel and tributaries to assess occupancy. Streams were classified as potential high, moderate, and low-quality brook trout habitats using indicator variables within the AEC and sampled seasonally with eDNA to quantify occupancy and relate it to habitat potential at the county scale. Results showed eDNA to be an effective tool for monitoring fish across Canadian Shield landscapes and that brook trout occupancy varied seasonally within and across watersheds, suggesting that habitat and fish management strategies need to consider seasonal movement and spatial connectivity. Using these tools will enable biologists to efficiently predict and document brook trout occurrences and habitat use across the landscape. Author Keywords: Aquatic Ecosystem Classification, brook trout, Canadian Shield, connectivity, environmental DNA, seasonal occupation
Automated Separation and Preconcentration of Ultra-Trace Levels of Radionuclides in Complex Matrices by Online Ion Exchange Chromatography Coupled with Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry (ICP-MS)
Radionuclides occur in the environment both naturally and artificially. Along with weapons testing and nuclear reactor operations, activities such as mining, fuel fabrication and fuel reprocessing are also major contributors to nuclear waste in the environment. In terms of nuclear safety, the concentration of radionuclides in nuclear waste must be monitored and reported before storage and/or discharge. Similarly, radionuclide waste from mining activities also contains radionuclides that need to be monitored. In addition, a knowledge of ongoing radionuclide concentrations is often required under certain ‘special’ conditions, for example in the area surrounding nuclear and mining operations, or when nuclear and other accidents occur. Thus, there is a huge demand for new methods that are suitable for continuously monitoring and rapidly analyzing radionuclide levels, especially in emergency situations. In this study, new automated analytical methods were successfully developed to measure ultra trace levels of single or multiple radionuclides in various environmental samples with the goal of faster analysis times and less analyst involvement while achieving detection limits suitable for typical environmental concentrations. Author Keywords: automation, ICP-MS, ion exchange, radionuclide
Diversity, Biogeography, and Functional Traits of Native Bees from Ontario’s Far North and Akimiski Island, Nunavut
Bees (clade Anthophila), are poorly studied in northern Canada, as these regions can be difficult to access and have a short growing season. This study examined bees from two such regions: Ontario’s Far North, and Akimiski Island, Nunavut. I present this study as the largest biogeographical study of bees performed in these remote areas to enhance knowledge of northern native bees. I found 10 geographically unexpected species in Ontario and on Akimiski Island. Rarefaction and the Chao 1 Diversity Index showed that Akimiski is nearly as diverse as the Far North of Ontario, a significantly larger area. I also found, based on log femur length versus latitude, Bombus worker size was consistent with Bergmann’s rule, and there were no apparent statistical differences in the community weighted means of functional traits between the Far North’s Boreal Shield and Hudson Bay Lowlands ecozones. This work provides invaluable knowledge of the native bee species from these regions, which has implications for their future conservation. Author Keywords: Akimiski Island, Bergmann's rule, Chao 1, Community-weighted means, native bees, rarefaction
effects of heat dissipation capacity on avian physiology and behaviour
In endotherms, physiological functioning is optimized within a narrow range of tissue temperatures, meaning that the capacity to dissipate body heat is an important parameter for thermoregulation and organismal performance. Yet, experimental research has found mixed support for the importance of heat dissipation capacity as a constraint on reproductive performance. To investigate the effects of heat dissipation capacity on organismal performance, I experimentally manipulated heat dissipation capacity in free-living tree swallows, Tachycineta bicolor, by trimming feathers overlying the brood patch, and monitored parental provisioning performance, body temperature, and offspring growth. I found that individuals with an enhanced capacity to dissipate body heat (i.e., trimmed treatment) provisioned their offspring more frequently, and reared larger offspring that fledged more consistently. Although control birds typically reduced their nestling provisioning rate at the highest ambient temperatures to avoid overheating, at times they became hyperthermic. Additionally, I examined inter-individual variation in body temperature within each treatment, and discovered that body temperature is variable among all individuals. This variability is also consistent over time (i.e., is repeatable), irrespective of treatment. Further, I found that individuals consistently differed in how they adjusted their body temperature across ambient temperature, demonstrating that body temperature is a flexible and repeatable physiological trait. Finally, I used a bacterial endotoxin (lipopolysaccharide) to examine the regulation of body temperature of captive zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata) during an immune challenge. Exposure to lipopolysaccharide induces sickness behaviours, and results in a fever, hypothermia, or a combination of the two, depending on species and dosage. I asked what the relative role of different regions of the body (bill, eye region, and leg) is in heat dissipation/retention during the sickness-induced body temperature response. I found that immune-challenged individuals modulated their subcutaneous temperature primarily through alterations in peripheral blood flow, particularly in the legs and feet, detectable as a drop in surface temperature. These results demonstrate that the importance of regional differences in regulating body temperature in different contexts. Taken together, my thesis demonstrates that heat dissipation capacity can affect performance and reproductive success in birds. Author Keywords: body temperature, heat dissipation, tree swallow, zebra finch
Enhanced weathering and carbonation of kimberlite residues from South African diamond mines
Mafic and ultramafic mine wastes have the potential to sequester atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) through enhanced weathering and CO2 mineralization. In this study, kimberlite residues from South African diamond mines were investigated to understand how weathering of these wastes leads to the formation of secondary carbonate minerals, a stable sink for CO2. Residues from Venetia Diamond Mine were fine-grained with high surface areas, and contained major abundances of lizardite, diopside, and clinochlore providing a maximum CO2 sequestration capacity of 3–6% of the mines emissions. Experiments utilized flux chambers to measure CO2 drawdown within residues and unweathered kimberlite exhibited greater negative fluxes (-790 g CO2/m2/year) compared to residues previously exposed to process waters (-190 g CO2/m2/year). Long-term weathering of kimberlite residues was explored using automated wet-dry cycles (4/day) over one year. Increases in the δ13C and δ18O values of carbonate minerals and unchanged amount of inorganic carbon indicate CO2 cycling as opposed to a net increase in carbon. Kimberlite collected at Voorspoed Diamond Mine contained twice as much carbonate in yellow ground (weathered) compared to blue ground, demonstrating the ability of kimberlite to store CO2 through prolonged weathering. This research is contributing towards the utilization of kimberlite residues and waste rock for CO2 sequestration. Author Keywords: CO2 fluxes, CO2 mineralization, CO2 sequestration, Enhanced weathering, Kimberlite, Passive carbonation
Fungal pathogen emergence
The emergence of fungal hybrid pathogens threatens sustainable crop production worldwide. To investigate hybridization, the related smut fungi, Ustilago maydis and Sporisorium reilianum, were selected because they infect a common host (Zea mays), can hybridize, and tools are available for their analysis. Hybrid dikaryons exhibited filamentous growth on plates but reduced virulence and limited colonization in Z. mays. Select virulence genes in the hybrid had similar transcript levels on plates and altered levels during infection of Z. mays relative to each parental dikaryon. Virulence genes were constitutively expressed in the hybrid to determine if its pathogenic development could be influenced. Little impact was observed in hybrids with increased expression of effectors known to modify host response and metabolism. However, increased expression of transcriptional regulators of stage specific pathogenic development increased the hybrid’s capacity to induce symptoms. These results establish a base for investigating molecular aspects of fungal hybrid pathogen emergence. Author Keywords: effectors, hybrid pathogenesis assays, Sporisorium reilianum, transcription factors, Ustilago maydis, virulence factors
Surface temperature regulation during stress exposure
The influence of stress exposure on the body temperature of vertebrates has been known for nearly two-thousand years. While the proximate mechanisms supporting this phenomenon are well described, the ultimate mechanisms remain enigmatic. In this thesis, I propose a novel hypothesis which states that changes in body surface temperature (henceforth "surface temperature") following stress exposure occur to reduce energetic expenditure toward thermoregulation, thus freeing energy for use in the stress response (hereafter, the "Thermoprotective Hypothesis"). Using a paired experimental design, I first show that black-capped chickadees (Poecile atricapillus, Linnaeus, 1766) exposed to repeated stressors decrease their surface temperatures at low ambient temperatures, and increase their surface temperatures at high ambient temperatures relative to unstressed controls. These changes in surface temperature contribute to a relative reduction in heat loss in the cold, and a relative increase in heat dissipation in the warmth among stress-exposed individuals, thus reducing their energetic demands toward more costly thermoregulatory strategies. Next, I show that stress-induced changes in surface temperature are most pronounced in chickadees that experience naturally-occurring resource-restrictions, suggesting that this response occurs to balance allocation of energy among the stress response and thermoregulation (i.e. a true energetic trade-off ). Third, I show that the magnitudes of chronic, stress-induced changes in surface temperature are highly variable among, and highly consistent within, chickadees, therefore suggesting that this response could hold adaptive significance if such variation among individuals is heritable. Finally, using domestic pigeons (Columba livia domestica, Gmelin, 1789) as a model species, I show that stress-induced changes in surface temperature are highly pronounced at bare tissues with a critical role in thermoregulation for some avian species (the bill), when compared with responses at surrounding bare tissues (the eye region). Together, these findings strongly support the Thermoprotective Hypothesis and suggest that endotherms may trade energetic investment toward thermoregulation with that toward the stress response in resource-limiting environments. Author Keywords: heat transfer, infrared thermography, stress physiology, surface temperature, thermoregulation, trade-off
Calcium Stress in Daphnia Pulicaria and Exposure to Predator-Derived Cues
In recent decades, declining calcium concentrations have been reported throughout lakes across the southern edge of the Canadian Shield. This raises concern as Daphnia populations have shown to be decreasing as they require calcium not only for survival but to mitigate predation risks. Therefore, the purpose of my thesis was to study the adaptability of Daphnia under calcium limitation and predation risk from Chaoborus. Firstly, I examined the effects of calcium limitation and Chaobours kairomones on daphniid life-history and population growth. I found that low calcium concentrations and Chaoborus kairomones affected Daphnia calcium content, life-history traits, and survival. Next, I focused on how calcium concentrations and Chaoborus abundance affected the calcium content and abundance of daphniids. During this study, I also examined the relationship between the abundance of Daphnia and a competitor Holopedium. I found that calcium concentrations and the abundance of Chaoborus affects daphniid abundance. Overall, results from this study show the importance of considering both predation risk and calcium declines to better determine daphniid losses. Author Keywords: anti-predator responses, Chaoborus, competition , Life-History traits, predator cues, Zooplankton
influence of tree species litterfall on soil chemistry and implications for modelling soil recovery from acidification
Decades of acidic deposition have depleted base cation pools in soil over large parts of eastern north America, including the Muskoka-Haliburton region of central Ontario. This region has also experienced a shift in forest species composition over the past 200 years, favouring sugar maple (Acer saccharum Marsh.) at the expense of species such as white pine (Pinus strobus L.) and eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis (L.) Carr.). This shift in species composition may have changed soil chemistry over time due to differences in nutrient and metal inputs in litterfall. An analysis of litterfall and soil chemistry was conducted for five tree species commonly found across central Ontario. Stands were established in the Haliburton Forest & Wild Life Reserve and were dominated by one of balsam fir (Abies balsamea (L.) Mill.), eastern hemlock, white pine, sugar maple, or yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis Britt.). Analysis of mineral soil oxides suggested that these stands were established on similar parent material. Deciduous dominated stands (maple and birch) had greater litterfall mass compared with conifer stands (fir, hemlock, and pine), generally leading to greater macronutrient inputs to the soil. Elemental cycling through the organic horizons was more rapid in deciduous stands, with base cations having the shortest residence times. This suggests that a change from greater conifer dominance to mixed hardwood forests may lead to more rapid elemental cycling and alter the distribution of elements in soil. Forests in the region are typically mixed and the resulting differences in soil chemistry may influence model predictions of soil recovery from acidification. Laboratory leaching tests indicated that both stand type and the acidity of simulated rainwater inputs influenced soil solution chemistry, with deciduous stands generally having a greater buffering capacity than sites dominated by coniferous species. Changes in soil chemistry were examined for each stand type using the Very Simple Dynamic (VSD) biogeochemical model. Simulations showed that soil base saturation began to increase following lows reached around the year 2000, and similar patterns were observed for all stands. When sulphur (S) and nitrogen (N) deposition were held constant at present rates, soil base saturation recovery (toward pre-1900 levels) was marginal by 2100. With additional deposition reductions, further increases in base saturation were minor at all sites. In conjunction with additional deposition reductions, the elimination of future forest harvesting allowed for the greatest potential for recovery in all stands. Overall, these results suggest that changes in forest cover may influence soil chemistry over time, most notably in the organic soil horizons. However, forecasted recovery from acidification is expected to follow similar patterns among stands, since differences in soil chemistry were less significant in the mineral soil horizons which compose a greater proportion of the soil profile. Author Keywords: base cation decline, forest harvesting, litterfall, mineral weathering, soil acidification, VSD model
Short photoperiod lowers visceral adiposity and shifts the molecular clock in Peromyscus leucopus
The length of photoperiod can alter circadian rhythms and change fat depot mass whencombined with environmental temperatures below thermoneutral. To isolate photoperiod effects, we compared the effects of long and short photoperiod exposure at thermoneutrality in photoperiod sensitive, F1 generation adult male white-footed mice (P. leucopus). Mice were housed in long-day or short-day photoperiod conditions at thermoneutrality for 4 weeks. Short photoperiod decreased vWAT mass without changing body weight, scWAT or iBAT mass, or calorie consumption. Short photoperiod increased Adrβ3 and Lpl mRNA expression in vWAT with no change in Ucp1, Pgc1a or Hsl. vWAT Per1, Per2 and Nr1d1 mRNA expression were aligned to the onset of dark and food intake, while Bmal1 and Clock were misaligned. These findings suggest that short photoperiod per se can decrease visceral fat accumulation, without activating thermogenesis, reinforcing that environmental photoperiod should be considered when researching cause and prevention of obesity. Author Keywords: adiposity, circadian rhythm, clock genes, obesity, Peromyscus, photoperiod

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Format: 2021/12/04