Graduate Theses & Dissertations

Environmental structure, morphology and spatial ecology of the five-lined skink (Plestiodon fasciatus) at high latitude range limits
Detecting relevant and meaningful patterns from the complex, interconnected network of relationships between organisms and their environment is a primary objective of ecology. Ecological patterns occur across multiple scales of space and time. In this dissertation, I examine aspects of environmental structure that influence a species’ distribution and are expressed in that species’ population dynamics. I compare the morphology of the five-lined skink (Plestiodon fasciatus) near its high latitude range limits with a lower latitude population and evaluate the economics of their behaviour in the context of its reproductive strategy. I tested the conformity of this species to biogeographical rules postulated by MacArthur, Bergmann, and Rensch. Spatial ecology was investigated in the context of the environmental potential for polygamy proposed by Emlen and Oring (1977) The five-lined skink, Plestiodon fasciatus, conformed to these biogeographic rules. Specifically, abiotic factors were the primary limiting factors affecting distribution at the high latitude range limits of the species; body size was larger in high latitude populations; and the degree of sexual size dimorphism was greater at high latitude than at low latitude. Spatial ecology at the individual scale was influenced by sites with suitable thermal conditions which facilitate the polygynandrous mating system documented in P. fasciatus in high latitude populations. My results confirm the importance of microsites with suitable thermal profiles as key habitat for ectothermic vertebrates at high latitudes. The influence of temperature as a limiting abiotic factor is expressed in population density, body size, spatial ecology, and reproductive strategy of P. fasciatus. Conservation and restoration of high latitude populations of ectothermic vertebrates should focus on ensuring thermal requirements of the species of concern are met before other factors are addressed, as temperature is likely the single most important limiting factor at high latitude range limits. Author Keywords: biogeography, lizard, Plestiodon fasciatus, range limits, sexual size dimorphism, spatial ecology
Effects of Local, Landscape, and Temporal Variables on Bobolink Nest Survival in Southern Ontario
Populations of grassland birds, including the Bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus), are experiencing steep declines due to losses of breeding habitat, land use changes, and agricultural practices. Understanding the variables affecting reproductive success can aid conservation of grassland species. I investigated 1) whether artificial nest experiments accurately estimate the impacts of cattle on the daily survival rate of Bobolink nests and 2) which local, landscape, and temporal variables affect daily survival rate of Bobolink nests in Southern Ontario. I replicated an artificial nest experiment performed in 2012 and 2015 to compare the daily survival rate of artificial and natural nests at multiple stocking rates (number of cattle × days × ha-1). I also monitored Bobolink nests and modeled daily survival rate using local variables (e.g., stocking rate, field use, patch area), landscape variables (e.g., percent forest within 2, 5, and 10 km), and temporal variables (e.g., year, date of season). Results indicate that artificial nest experiments using clay shooting targets overestimated the impacts of stocking rate on the daily survival rate of Bobolink nests. With natural nests, region (confounded by year and field use), stocking rate, and date of season were the strongest predictors of daily survival rate; with stocking rate and date of season both having a negative effect. Management should focus on conserving pastures with low stocking rates (< 40 cattle × days × ha-1), late-cut hayfields, fallow fields, and other grasslands to protect breeding grounds for the Bobolink and other declining grassland bird species. Author Keywords: Bobolink, Daily survival rate, landscape variables, local variables, Nest survival, temporal variables
spatial and temporal distribution of tabanid (Chrysops, Hybomitra and Tabanus) species in the Nakina district of northwestern Ontario
This thesis focused on expanding knowledge of Hybomitra, Chrysops and Tabanus (Diptera: Tabanidae) distributions north of Lake Nipigon, Ontario, in a managed boreal forest. As land use and climate changes accelerate, there is increased pressure to increase knowledge from which to monitor changes. In 2011 and 2012, 8928 individuals representing, 44 species were captured using sweep netting. Major northward range extensions were observed for Chrysops shermani, C. aberrans and Tabanus fairchildi. Smaller range extensions and in-fills were observed for another 15 species. 23 species had exntensions to their previously known seasonal range. C. carbonarius was the only species that showed an extension to both sides of its season. In general, harvested stands had 50% more individuals and 30% greater species richness than younger stands. A possible link between stand age and interspecific competition was identified. Information has been provided to build baseline of species richness, relative abundance and distribution of Tabanid flies. Author Keywords: diptera, distribution, natural history, northern Ontario, species range, tabanid
Impact of Agricultural Land Use on Bobolink Occurrence, Abundance, and Reproductive Success in an Alvar Landscape
Pastures and hayfields provide surrogate habitat for many declining grassland birds. Understanding agricultural land use dynamics and habitat quality can impact conservation of grassland species. I investigated 1) patterns of land use change in protected and unprotected sites in relationship to Bobolink occurrence in Carden, Ontario, Canada and 2) whether continuous grazing at lowmoderate cattle densities provided suitable breeding habitat, using both real and artificial nests. I replicated the 2001-2005 Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas to evaluate site habitat changes and Bobolink population trends. In continuously grazed pastures and late-cut hayfields, I monitored Bobolink abundance and reproductive success and modeled daily survival rate of nests using habitat management, vegetation structure, and prey availability. Results indicated that Bobolink have declined by -15.3% since 2001 in Carden; losses were explained almost entirely by changes from suitable breeding habitat (e.g. hayfields) to tilled land or by the colonization of shrubs. For pastures, stocking densities of ≤ 1Animal Units/ha did not negatively impact Bobolink. Year and caterpillar biomass, and vegetation height were the strongest predictors of nesting success in pastures and hayfields, respectively. Focus on the preservation of suitable habitat on the breeding grounds and management on small-scale beef farms can contribute to conservation action for this declining species. Author Keywords: agricultural management, avian ecology, Bobolink, continuous grazing, grassland birds, nest success
Using automated radio-telemetry to link food availability, reproductive success, and habitat use of Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica erythrogaster)
Drivers of North American Barn Swallow population declines are not well understood, but foraging habitat loss is thought to be a contributing factor. Determining patterns of habitat use is challenging for swallows because they move rapidly but are too small to carry GPS tags. We showed that automated radio-telemetry could be used to track the movements of swallows with enough accuracy (median error 250 m) to monitor local habitat use. We then combined information on breeding Barn Swallows habitat use, land cover, aerial insect abundance, and fledging success to test for a link between foraging habitat quality and reproductive success. Foraging activity was concentrated within 600 m of nest sites and varied with land cover; however, responses to land cover were not consistent across birds. Aerial insects were most abundant near wetlands and least abundant near open water and over cropland. Consistent with a link between foraging habitat and reproductive success, nests in barns with more wetland and less open water within 1 km, and with less field area within 2 km occupied by row crops, on average fledged more young swallows. Author Keywords: aerial insectivores, automated telemetry, habitat use, land cover, movement, nest success
Sexual Dimporphism and Population Dynamics of Sub-Arctic Breding Dunlin (Calidris alpina hudsonia) near Churchill, Manitoba, Canada
Around the world, many populations of migratory shorebirds appear to be declining. Conservation strategies to reverse declining trends rely on, among other information, a firm understanding of breeding ground population dynamics. From 2010 to 2014, I studied a breeding population of Dunlin (Calidris alpina hudsonia) near Churchill, Manitoba using mark-recapture methods. I found that females were significantly larger than males. I subsequently developed an equation based on morphological features that successfully classified 87.1% of females and 92.6% of males, sexed using molecular techniques. Using program MARK, I quantified the annual apparent survival of adults (± SE) within the breeding population (0.82 ± 0.063 for males, 0.73 ± 0.12 for females). Transient adults made up a significant percentage of the female population (32%, P = 0.011), but non-significant in the male population (12%, P > 0.05). Re-sight rate was high for both sexes, and ranged from 0.86-0.90 per year. Sex, year, and nest initiation date were the factors that had the greatest influence on annual returns. There was no significant difference in mean inter-annual nest site distance between sexes (male: 82.01 ± 13.42 m, female: 208.38 ± 55.88 m, P > 0.05). The high survival estimates obtained in this study suggest that the breeding population is stable and may not be contributing to suspected population declines within the subspecies. Author Keywords: demography, discriminant function analysis, mark-recapture, sexual size dimorphism, survival
Stopover Movement Patterns by Blackpoll and Canada Warblers Across Southeastern Canada During Fall Migration
Stopover ecology is a topic that surges in relevancy as choices made by migrants during stationary periods (stopover sites) may not only have important individuals’ fitness consequences but also can affect population dynamics. I used MOTUS automated telemetry array to study fall stopover duration of Blackpoll Warbler (BLPW) and departure decisions of BLPW and Canada Warbler (CAWA) in relation to various predictors. I affixed radio-transmitters on 55 BLPWs and 32 CAWAs at two banding stations in Ontario in September-October 2014-2015. Radio-tagged individuals were tracked through the MOTUS network across southeastern Canada. I developed models relating age class, fat score, Julian date and stopover movement types to Blackpolls’ stopover duration. I also examined whether there were species-related differences of wind selectivity when resuming migration. No explanatory variable significantly influenced BLPW’s stopover duration. Both species tended to depart under increased tailwind assistance, but with no difference in the effect of wind conditions between the two species. This study provides further evidence supporting the relevance of local wind conditions as a key factor affecting the departure likelihood, especially when migrating birds face an ecological barrier. Author Keywords: Cardellina canadensis, departure decisions, minimum stopover length, MOTUS, overland fall migration, Setophaga striata
Effects of Hydroelectric Corridors on the Distribution of Female Caribou (Rangifer tarandus) on the Island of Newfoundland
A species of concern is caribou (Rangifer tarandus), a species in decline across most of the circumpolar North, including the island of Newfoundland. Resource exploitation across caribou ranges is projected to accelerate in the coming decades as oil extraction, roads, forest harvesting, and mining encroach upon their habitat. Hydroelectric corridors, in particular, are anticipated to expand significantly. The effects of these linear developments on caribou habitat remain unclear. I capitalized on an existing dataset of nearly 700 radio‐tracked female caribou, 1980‐2011, to determine the long‐term effects of hydroelectric corridors on their seasonal distributions. Using an island-wide landcover map, I tested for preference or avoidance hydroelectric corridors in each of 4 seasons using the Euclidean Distance habitat selection technique at the extent of the population ranges (broad scale) for each decade (1980s, 1990s, 2000s). I also examined the distribution of caribou ≤10 km and ≤20 km from corridors (narrow scale) for five herds. At the broad scale, the response was highly variable. Female caribou were most likely to avoid corridors during the 1980s, but they often exhibited little aversion, even preference for corridors, particularly in the 1990s and 2000s. Hydroelectric corridors, therefore, did not appear to be limiting at this scale. I surmise that these long-term shifts reflect the heightened density-dependent food limitation for Newfoundland caribou. At the narrow scale, avoidance of corridors was common – typically, a 50% reduction in use within 2-5 km of the corridor. Consistent with the broad scale, caribou exhibited the strongest tendency for avoidance in the 1980s compared to subsequent decades. Understanding space-use remains central to the study of caribou ecology. Hydroelectric lines in Newfoundland tended to coincide with other anthropogenic features. Cumulative effects must be considered to understand the full range of effects by human developments on caribou. Author Keywords: Caribou, distribution, habitat, hydroelectric, Newfoundland, Rangifer tarandus

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