Graduate Theses & Dissertations


Calving site selection and fidelity in a restored elk (Cervus elaphus) herd in Bancroft, Ontario, Canada
ABSTRACT Calving site selection and fidelity in a restored elk (Cervus elaphus) herd in Bancroft Ontario, Canada. Michael R. Allan Parturition site selection by ungulates is believed to be influenced by forage abundance and concealment from predators. In 2011 and 2012, I used vaginal implant transmitters and movements to identify calving sites for 23 GPS collared elk (Cervus elaphus) from a restored herd. I tested the hypothesis that maternal elk used sites with higher forage and denser concealment compared to pre-calving sites at micro and macrohabitat levels. I detected no significant microhabitat differences from direct measurements of vegetation. At the macrohabitat scale, based on proximity of landcover classes, mean distances to hardwood forests was significantly less for calving (153 m) than pre-calving sites (198 m). Site fidelity is hypothesized to offer security in terms of familiarity to an area. I tested the hypothesis that females demonstrated fidelity to their previous year's location during pre-partum, parturition, post partum, breeding and winter periods. Elk were more philopatric during parturition and post partum than during breeding. Compared to winter elk were more philopatric during pre-partum, parturition and post-partum periods. Expressed as distance between consecutive-year calving locations, site fidelity varied with 27% of females exhibiting high (<1 km), 18% moderate and 55% (>2.9 km) low fidelity. I measured nearest-neighbour distances at calving time, exploring the hypothesis that females distance themselves from conspecifics. Elk increased the average distances to collared conspecifics during parturition; however, sample sizes were small. This strategy might influence calving site selection. Rapid movement prior to parturition, low site fidelity and spacing-out of females during parturition appear to be strategies to minimize predator risk and detection. Little evidence of selection for vegetation structure suggests this may not be limiting to these elk. Author Keywords: calving, elk, fidelity, movement, parturition, selection
Demography and habitat selection of Newfoundland caribou
The objective of this thesis is to better understand the demography and habitat selection of Newfoundland caribou. Chapter 1 provides a general introduction of elements of population ecology and behavioural ecology discussed in the thesis. In Chapter 2, I examine the causes of long-term fluctuations among caribou herds. My findings indicate that winter severity and density-dependent degradation of summer range quality offer partial explanations for the observed patterns of population change. In Chapter 3, I investigate the influence of climate, predation and density-dependence on cause-specific neonate survival. I found that when caribou populations are in a period of increase, predation from coyotes and bears is most strongly influenced by the abiotic conditions that precede calving. However, when populations begin to decline, weather conditions during calving also influenced survival. I build on this analysis in Chapter 4 by determining the influence of climate change on the interplay between predation risk and neonate survival. I found that the relative equilibrium between bears and coyotes may not persist in the future as risk from coyotes could increase due to climate change. In Chapter 5, I investigate the relationships in niche overlap between caribou and their predators and how this may influence differential predation risk by affecting encounter rates. For coyotes, seasonal changes in niche overlap mirrored variation in caribou calf risk, but had less association with the rate of encounter with calves. In contrast, changes in niche overlap during the calving season for black bears had little association with these parameters. In Chapter 6, I examine broad-level habitat selection of caribou to study trade-offs between predator avoidance and foraging during the calving season. The results suggest that caribou movements are oriented towards increased access to foraging and the reduction of encounter risk with bears, and to a lesser extent, coyotes. Finally, I synthesize the major findings from this thesis and their relevance to caribou conservation in Chapter 7, to infer that Newfoundland caribou decline is ultimately driven by extrinsic and intrinsic elements related to density-dependence. Reduction in neonate survival emerged from nutritionally-stressed caribou females producing calves with lower survival. Author Keywords: Behavioural ecology, Black bear (Ursus americanus), Coyote (Canis latrans), Population ecology, Predator-prey interactions, Woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus)
Hybridization Dynamics between Wolves and Coyotes in Central Ontario
Eastern wolves (Canis lycaon) have hybridized extensively with coyotes (C. latrans) and gray wolves (C. lupus) and are listed as a `species of special concern' in Canada. Previous studies have not linked genetic analysis with field data to investigate the mechanisms underlying Canis hybridization. Accordingly, I studied genetics, morphology, mortality, and behavior of wolves, coyotes, and hybrids in and adjacent to Algonquin Provincial Park (APP), Ontario. I documented 3 genetically distinct Canis types within the APP region that also differed morphologically, corresponding to putative gray wolves, eastern wolves, and coyotes. I also documented a substantial number of hybrids (36%) that exhibited intermediate morphology relative to parental types. I found that individuals with greater wolf ancestry occupied areas of higher moose density and fewer roads. Next, I studied intrinsic and extrinsic factors influencing survival and cause-specific mortality of canids in the hybrid zone. I found that survival was poor and harvest mortality was high for eastern wolves in areas adjacent to APP compared with other sympatric Canis types outside of APP and eastern wolves within APP. Contrary to previous studies of wolves and coyotes elsewhere, I hypothesized that all Canis types exhibit a high degree of spatial segregation in the Ontario hybrid zone. My hypothesis was supported as home range overlap and shared space use between neighboring Canis packs of all ancestry classes were low. Territoriality among Canis may increase the likelihood of eastern wolves joining coyote and hybrid packs and exacerbate hybridization. Canids outside APP modified their use of roads between night and day strongly at high road densities (selecting roads more at night), whereas they responded weakly at lower road densities (generally no selection). Individuals that survived exhibited a highly significant relationship between the difference in their night and day selection of roads and availability of roads, whereas those that died showed a weaker, non-significant response. My results suggest that canids in the unprotected landscape outside APP must balance trade-offs between exploiting benefits associated with secondary roads while mitigating risk of human-caused mortality. Overall, my results suggest that the distinct eastern wolf population of APP is unlikely to expand numerically and/or geographically under current environmental conditions and management regulations. If expansion of the APP eastern wolf population (numerically and in terms of its geographic distribution) is a conservation priority for Canada and Ontario, additional harvest protection in areas outside of APP may be required. If additional harvest protection is enacted, a detailed study within the new areas of protection would be important to document specific effects on eastern wolf population growth. Author Keywords: Canis, coyotes, eastern wolves, hybridization, resource selection, survival
Habitat use and community structure of grassland birds in southern Ontario agro-ecosystems.
Most grassland bird populations are in decline, so it is becoming increasingly important to understand how they use agricultural field types and form their communities. I performed point counts in cultural meadow, intensive agriculture, and non-intensive agriculture areas in 2011 and 2012. Generalized linear models were used to determine the habitat relationships of six focal species. I found that non-intensive agriculture was used most often and intensive agriculture was often avoided, but there were exceptions which indicate habitat use can be species-specific. I determined in which habitats competition was likely occurring and which species pairs were competing in 2011. In 2012, I experimentally tested these relationships by introducing artificial competitors onto sites. By comparing presence-absence data from 2011 to 2012, I found evidence of habitat-mediated interspecific and conspecific attraction involving Bobolink and Grasshopper Sparrow. This research contributes to the current understanding of grassland bird community ecology and conservation. Author Keywords: agriculture, BACI, community ecology, habitat use, species at risk, species interactions
Changes to the Arctic and sub-Arctic climate are becoming increasingly evident as it warms faster than other areas of the globe, supporting evidence that predictions of future warming will be amplified due to positive feedback mechanisms. The Southern Hudson Bay polar bear (Ursus maritimus) subpopulation is one of the most southerly subpopulations in the world, putting it at increased risk due to effects of climate change. Whereas many other subpopulations have been the subject of intense research and monitoring, little research has been completed detailing the movement behaviour and space use of bears within Southern Hudson Bay. I used detailed movement data collected on female polar bears to establish a baseline of movement information for this subpopulation to which future work can be compared and effects of climate change can be assessed I evaluated the use of core areas during critical periods of the year (breeding and ice breakup) and evaluated common space use as a means of assessing site fidelity during the breeding season. Movement rates and home range sizes were comparable to those of the neighbouring Western Hudson Bay subpopulation. I also found evidence of increased occurrences of long distance, late fall movements along the coast to the northwest, presumably to gain earlier access to first ice. Though space use analysis did not reveal evidence of site fidelity to specific breeding areas in Hudson Bay, I found that core use areas are at risk of substantially shortened ice duration (x¯ =76 days shorter) using projected ice data based on the high emissions A2 climate change scenario. Author Keywords: climate change, Hudson Bay, movement, polar bear, sea ice, utilization distribution
Moving North
Since their successful reintroduction, the eastern wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo silvestris) has expanded its range north. Due to different and potentially more severe limiting factors, management approaches generalized from studies within the historical range may not be appropriate to apply to northern populations. To better understand northern wild turkey ecology, GPS and VHF transmitters were used to track habitat selection and survival of female turkeys at the species northern range edge in Ontario, Canada. These northern turkeys exhibited larger seasonal home range sizes relative to those in their historical range, and selected deciduous forest and pasture and fields within the study area. Supplemental food was also selected by turkeys when choosing autumn and winter ranges. The northern turkeys also suffered a low annual survival rate, and high mortality from predation. These findings underscore the challenges of maintaining turkey populations in northern environments, and will help inform management strategies. Author Keywords: Eastern Wild Turkey, Euclidean distance analysis, Habitat selection, Meleagris gallopavo silvestris, Northern range edge, Survival
Reintroducing species in the 21st century
Climate change has had numerous impacts on species' distributions by shifting suitable habitat to higher latitudes and elevations. These shifts pose new challenges to biodiversity management, in particular translocations, where suitable habitat is considered crucial for the reintroduced population. De-extinction is a new conservation tool, similar to reintroduction, except that the proposed candidates are extinct. However, this novel tool will be faced with similar problems from anthropogenic change, as are typical translocation efforts. Using ecological niche modelling, I measured suitability changes at translocation sites for several Holarctic mammal species under various climate change scenarios, and compared changes between release sites located in the southern, core, and northern regions of the species' historic range. I demonstrate that past translocations located in the southern regions of species' ranges will have a substantial decline in environmental suitability, whereas core and northern sites exhibited the reverse trend. In addition, lower percentages (< 50% in certain scenarios) of southern sites fall above the minimal suitability threshold for current and long-term species occurrence. Furthermore, I demonstrate that three popular de-extinction candidate species have experienced changes in habitat suitability in their historic range, owing to climate change and increased land conversion. Additionally, substantial increase in potentially suitable space is projected beyond the range-limits for all three species, which could raise concerns for native wildlife if de-extinct species are successfully established. In general, this thesis provides insight for how the selection of translocation sites can be more adaptable to continued climate change, and marks perhaps the first rigorous attempt to assess the potential for species de-extinction given contemporary and predicted changes in land use and climate. Author Keywords: climate change, de-extinction, ecological niche models, MaxEnt, reintroduction, translocation
Caribou experience direct and indirect negative effects of harassment from biting flies, influencing behavior and activity on several spatial and temporal scales. I used systematic insect collection surveys during the summers of 2011 and 2012 to examine the spatial and temporal distributions of black flies (Simuliidae), mosquitoes (Culicidae), and deer flies and horse flies (Tabanidae) in a managed boreal forest in northern Ontario. Mosquitoes had a positive association with densely treed habitats, whereas black flies more often occurred in open areas, and tabanids had a strong presence in all habitat types. Habitats in proximity to large bodies of water had fewer biting flies than inland areas. Young stands supported higher abundances of tabanids despite vegetation community type. Next, I tested for seasonal effects of biting fly abundance on caribou activity by modelling the seasonal trend in abundance for each fly family for each year and compared this to an index of daily activity for 20 radio-collared female caribou in 2011 and 10 females in 2012. I modeled this index of caribou activity for each animal in each year and extracted the set of partial correlation coefficients from multiple regressions to test for effects of biting fly abundances on caribou activity. Caribou reduced their daily activity when tabanids were more numerous, and increased activity when mosquitoes were numerous. This divergent response may reflect a difference in the efficacy of moving to reduce harassment, owing to the stronger flight capabilities of tabanids. Author Keywords: Activity, Anthropogenic Disturbance, Behaviour, Insect harassment, Temporal distribution, Woodland Caribou
Influence of Habitat on Woodland Caribou Site Fidelity
Site fidelity is the behaviour of individuals to return to the same location; for female woodland caribou it may reflect reproductive success and depend on habitat quality. I investigated the influence of landscape and disturbance conditions on fidelity among three populations in Manitoba and Ontario, Canada. Habitat classifications were based on Forest Resource Inventory (FRI) and Landsat TM landcover maps. A total of 261 sites were ground-truthed to determine mapping accuracy. An amalgamated map incorporating FRI and Landsat TM data was estimated from field measurements to have an overall accuracy of 69.0%. Site fidelity was expressed as the distance between consecutive-year locations of individuals and was investigated during five week-long periods representing calving, early and late post-calving, winter, and breeding. Site fidelity was strongest during the post-calving seasons and weakest during the winter. Habitat had little influence on site fidelity in all seasons, excepting winter, even under highly disturbed conditions, suggesting maintenance of fidelity may be a maladaptive trait. Individual variation proved a strong predictor and cursory mapping indicated that caribou may return to sites visited two or more years earlier. Conservation management and policy should recognize that site fidelity may represent an ecological trap. Author Keywords: calving, disturbance, habitat, movement, Rangifer tarandus caribou, site fidelity
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
Regional differences in the whistles of Australasian humpback dolphins (genus Sousa)
Most delphinids produce narrowband frequency-modulated whistles with a high level of plasticity to communicate with conspecifics. It is important to understand geographic variation in whistles as signal variation in other taxa has provided insight into the dispersal capabilities, genetic divergence and isolation among groups, and adaptation to ecological conditions. I investigated whistle variation of Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins (Sousa chinensis chinensis), Taiwanese humpback dolphins (S. c. taiwanensis) and Australian humpback dolphins (S. sahulensis) to test whether differences in whistles support the hypotheses of population structure, regional and species differences in the genus Sousa, which were based on morphological and genetic data. I also investigated important factors that may contribute to local distinctiveness in whistles including behavioural state, group size, and the influence of vessel noise. Multivariate analyses of seven acoustic variables supported the hypotheses of population structure, regional and species differences. Acoustic diversification between groups is likely influenced by behaviour and social contexts of whistles, and environmental noise. The use of sound to identify discrete groups of humpback dolphins may be important in future studies where genetic and morphological studies may not reveal recent differentiation or are difficult to conduct. Author Keywords: Bioacoustics, Cetacean, Geographic variation, Population biology, Sousa, Whistle characteristics
Adaptive Genetic Markers Reveal the Biological Significance and Evolutionary History of Woodland Caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) Ecotypes
Migratory and sedentary ecotypes are phenotypic distinctions of woodland caribou. I explored whether I could distinguish between these ecotypes in Manitoba and Ontario using genetic signatures of adaptive differentiation. I anticipated that signatures of selection would indicate genetic structure and permit ecotype assignment of individuals. Cytochrome-b, a functional portion of the mitochondrial genome, was tested for evidence of adaptation using Tajima’s D and by comparing variations in protein physiology. Woodland caribou ecotypes were compared for evidence of contemporary adaptive differentiation in relation to mitochondrial lineages. Trinucleotide repeats were also tested for differential selection between ecotypes and used to assign individuals to genetic clusters. Evidence of adaptive variation in the mitochondrial genome suggests woodland caribou ecotypes of Manitoba and Ontario corresponded with an abundance of functional variation. Woodland caribou ecotypes coincide with genetic clusters, and there is evidence of adaptive differentiation between migratory caribou and certain sedentary populations. Previous studies have not described adaptive variation in caribou using the methods applied in this study. Adaptive differences between caribou ecotypes suggest selection may contribute to the persistence of ecotypes and provides new genetic tools for population assessment. Author Keywords: Adaptation, Cytochrome-B, Ecotype, RANGIFER TARANDUS CARIBOU, Selection, TRINUCLEOTIDE REPEAT


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