Graduate Theses & Dissertations


Assessing Canada Lynx Dispersal Across an Elevation Barrier
Mountain ranges are often thought to restrict movement of wildlife, yet previous studies evaluating the role of the Rocky Mountains as a dispersal barrier for Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis) have been contradictory. Our study uses neutral microsatellite loci to evaluate the role of the Rocky Mountains as a barrier to gene flow for lynx. Although lynx exhibited low genetic differentiation, we detected a limited effect of the mountains. Furthermore, we inferred the role played by landscape variables in gene flow (genetic differentiation predicted by landscape resistance). Limited gene flow most strongly related to resistance from physical factors (low snow cover and elevation), rather than other topographic and ecological factors (high terrain roughness, low forest cover, low habitat suitability, and geographic distance). Structural connectivity was a relatively poor predictor of functional connectivity. Overall, the Rockies represent an area of reasonably high functional connectivity for lynx, with limited resistance to gene flow. Author Keywords: Canada lynx, connectivity, gene flow, genetic structure, landscape genetics, Rocky mountains
Assessing Connectivity of Protected Area Networks and the Role of Private Lands in the United States
Forestalling biodiversity loss through the establishment of protected areas is a universally accepted conservation strategy, yet despite established guidelines for protected area coverage and placement, much of the world is currently failing to meet its commitments to conservation planning and landscape protection. Calls for the United States to protect more land usually focus on the need for strategic selection of land parcels to bolster protected area coverage and network functionality, but to date there lacks focused research on either the role of private protected areas in conservation planning or the factors affecting individual protected area selection and importance. We determined gaps in conservation planning in the contiguous United States by analyzing the connectivity of protected area networks by state, and assessing the importance of private protected areas in improving linkages in protected area connectivity. We found that all states had low coverage from protected areas (average <8.4% of total land mass), and especially private protected areas (average <1.1% of total land mass), and that the overall contribution of such areas to protected area network connectivity also was low. Terrain ruggedness was identified as the main factor affecting the current location of protected areas, and that protected area spatial layout is a primary influence on landscape connectivity. We conclude that establishment of private protected areas could offer a viable conservation tool for increasing protected area coverage and connectivity, but that current efforts are inadequate to either adequately link existing protected areas or to meet established land protection guidelines. Author Keywords: Aichi Target 11, conservation planning, graph theory, network theory, private conservation, protected areas
Assessing Measured and Perceived Risks to Drinking Water Sources
Microcontaminants originating from wastewater effluent and run-off from agricultural lands may be present in the sources of drinking water for rural and Indigenous communities in mixed-use watersheds. In this study, a convergent parallel mixed-methods design was applied to assess measured and perceived risks of contamination in the sources of drinking water for two communities; the Six Nations of the Grand River community in Ontario and the community of Soufriere in St. Lucia, West Indies. The overall goal of the project was to assess how measured and perceived risks of exposure to chemical and biological contaminants in drinking water sources could inform water management strategies for the communities. Quantitative data obtained from the analysis of water samples collected indicated that the highest levels and occurrence of fecal bacteria were found in the Soufriere watershed while the highest concentrations and occurrence of pesticides were found in the Grand River watershed. In the Grand River watershed, conventional treatment of water followed by activated carbon filtration and UV disinfection removed fecal bacteria and also removed many chemical microcontaminants with efficiencies as high as 98%. Data from both watersheds indicated that there was a strong positive correlation between the levels of caffeine and sucralose (i.e. indicators of wastewater contamination) in water samples and the levels of either Total Coliforms or fecal bacteria of human origin. Human health risk assessments of individual pesticides and pesticide mixtures performed by applying a hazard quotient (HQ) and hazard index (HI) model, respectively indicated that there were no apparent risks to human health from those microcontaminants. Qualitative data obtained from face-to-face interviews with water managers and health professionals working in the two communities, which were collected and analysed concurrently but independently, illustrated that there were cross-cultural similarities and differences in factors influencing the perceptions of risks associated with the sources of drinking water. These perceptions of risks were mainly influenced by factors such as heuristics or informal and informal reasoning, cognitive-affective factors, social-political institutions and cultural factors. These factors may have also influenced water managers and health professionals, as they often recommended more “soft” strategies for managing water resources in the communities. Key words: pesticides, fecal bacteria, microcontaminants, POCIS, measured risks, perceived risks, water management, First Nations, Grand River, Soufriere, St. Lucia Author Keywords: fecal bacteria, measured risks, microcontaminants, perceived risks, POCIS, water management
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
Assessing basin storage
Water storage is a fundamental component of drainage basins, controlling the synchronization between precipitation input and streamflow output. The ability of a drainage basin to store water and regulate streamflow may mediate sensitivity to climate and land cover change. There is currently no agreement on the best way to quantify basin storage. This study compares results of a combined hydrometric and isotopic approach for characterizing inter-basin differences in storage across the Oak Ridges Moraine (ORM) in southern Ontario. The ratio of the standard deviation of the stable isotope signature of streamflow relative to that of precipitation has been shown to be inversely proportional to mean water transit times, with smaller ratios indicating longer water transit times and implying greater storage. Stable isotope standard deviation ratios were inversely related to baseflow index values. Basins demonstrating longer transit times were associated with hydrological characteristics that promote infiltration and recharge of storage. Author Keywords: baseflow, basin storage, climate change, mean transit time, Oak Ridges Moraine, stable isotopes
Assessing limnological characteristics of subarctic Québec thaw ponds and mercury methylation and methylmercury demethylation within their sediments
Thawing permafrost due to increasingly warm temperatures in northern subarctic regions is releasing mercury. The consequent formation of thaw ponds in the peatland palsa valley of the Sasapimakwananisikw (SAS) river in Whapmagoostui-Kuujjuarapik, Québec may provide a pool for MMHg formation and a potential risk to aquatic and human life, if these ponds facilitate MMHg export through hydrological connections to nearby waterways. Hg methylation and MMHg demethylation activities were examined in thaw pond sediments using a Hg tracer isotope incubation experiment. Analysis by coupling gas chromatography cold-vapor atomic fluorescence spectrophotometry (GC-CVAFS) with inductively coupled mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) techniques showed that MMHg was produced at a higher rate and within the first 2 h of incubation for both summer and winter seasons. For thaw ponds SAS1A, SAS1B and SAS2A, MMHg was formed at 0.0048 % h-1, 0.0012 % h-1, and 0.0008 % h-1, respectively during winter and at 0.0001 % h-1, 0.0016 % h-1, and 0.0010 % h-1, respectively during summer. Detection of MMHg losses were not as expected likely due to limitations of the combined tracer spike and overestimation of the in situ ambient mercury levels. Physical and chemical properties vary within ponds, among ponds and between winter and summer. SAS1B’s location nearby an organic carbon rich palsa may be ideal to study DOC – Hg interactions. Variability in pond characteristics including depth, surface area, age, pH, temperature, colour, oxygen concentration, total dissolved and suspended solids, conductivity, carbon, mercury, ammonium, calcium, magnesium, sulfate, total phosphorous, potassium, and sodium between seasons indicate the challenge of predicting future environmental impacts of climate change related thaw pond creation in the north. Author Keywords: demethylation, mercury, methylation, methylmercury, SAS, thaw ponds
Assessing the Potential for Contamination of Lakes from Upwelling of Arsenic-Laden Groundwater Through Sediments
A bedrock fracture hosting arsenic (As) contaminated groundwater was suspected to be transported to Ramsey Lake, a drinking water resource for more than 50,000 residents of Sudbury, Ontario. A high resolution, spatial, water quality mapping technique using an underwater towed vehicle (UTV) was used to identify sources of upwelling groundwater into lake water and localize the upwelling As contaminated groundwater vent site. The top 7 cm of lake sediments (in-situ) at this vent site were observed to adsorb 93 % of the dissolved As, thus inhibiting lake water quality degradation from this contaminant source. Sediment samples from this location were used in laboratory experiments to assess the potential for this system to become a source of As contamination to Ramsey Lake water quality and elucidate As(III) fractionation, transformation and redistribution rates and processes during aging. Arsenic speciation is important because As(III) has been shown to be more toxic than As(V). To accomplish this a sequential extraction procedure (SEP) that maintains As(III) and As(V) speciation in (sub)oxic sediments and soils was validated for the operationally defined fractions: easily exchangeable, strongly sorbed, amorphous Fe oxide bound, crystalline Fe oxide bound, and the residual fraction for total As because the characteristics of the reagents required to extract the final fraction do not maintain As species. Batch reaction experiments using sediment spiked with As(III) or As(V) and aged for up to 32 d were sequentially extracted and analysed for As(III) and As(V). Consecutive reaction models illustrate As(III) is first adsorbed to the sediment then oxidized to As(V). Fractionation analyses show As(III) most rapidly adsorbs to the easily exchangeable fraction where it is oxidized and redistributes to the strongly sorbed and amorphous Fe oxide bound fractions. Oxidation of As(III) adsorbed to the amorphous and crystalline Fe oxide bound fractions is less efficient and possibly inhibited. Select samples amended with goethite provide evidence supporting Mn(II) oxidation is catalyzed by the goethite surface, thus increasing As(III) oxidation by Mn(III/IV) complexed with the strongly sorbed fraction. Although As immobilization through groundwater sediment interactions may be inhibited by increased ion activity, particularly phosphate or lake eutrophication, this threat in Ramsey Lake is likely low. Author Keywords: arsenic, fractionation, modelling, redistribution, speciation, water quality mapping
Assessing the Potential of Permaculture as an Adaptation Strategy Towards Climate Change in Central Ontario
This thesis uses three approaches to assess the potential of permaculture in Central Ontario. This was done using a vegetable field trial and modelling programs to determine the effectiveness of permaculture to decrease negative impacts of climate change based on projected climate values derived from regional circulation models. The first approach showed no statistical difference (P<0.05) of applying varied volumes and combinations of organic amendments on crop yields. The second approach indicated permaculture may be a sustainable production system with respect to soil erosion when compared to traditional agricultural practices. The third approach was inconclusive due to the lack of quantitative literature on permaculture management impacts on biomass yields, soil carbon or nutrient retention, which were missing from basic and scientific literature searches. The models used within this thesis include USLE, RUSLE2, AgriSuite, RothC and Holos. Author Keywords: Agriculture, Climate Change, Computer Modelling, Permaculture, Soil Erosion and Assessment
Assessing the population genetic structure of the endangered Cucumber tree (Magnolia acuminata) in southwestern Ontario using nuclear and chloroplast genetic markers.
Magnolia acuminata (Cucumber tree) is the only native Magnolia in Canada, where it is both federally and provincially listed as endangered.Magnolia acuminata in Canada can be found inhabiting pockets of Carolinian forest within Norfolk and Niagara regions of southwestern Ontario. Using a combination of nuclear and chloroplast markers, this study assessed the genetic diversity and differentiation of M. acuminata in Canada, compared to samples from the core distribution of this species across the United States. Analyses revealed evidence of barriers to dispersal and gene flow among Ontario populations, although genetic diversity remains high and is in fact comparable to levels of diversity estimated across the much broader range of M. acuminata in the USA. When examining temporal differences in genetic diversity, our study found that seedlings were far fewer than mature trees in Ontario, and in one site in particular, diversity was lower in seedlings than that of the adult trees. This study raises concern regarding the future viability of M. acuminata in Ontario, and conservation managers should factor in the need to maintain genetic diversity in young trees for the long-term sustainability of M. acuminata in Ontario. Author Keywords: conservation genetics, cpDNA, forest fragmentation, Magnolia acuminata, microsatellites, population genetic structure
Assessment of Potential Threats to Eastern Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida) in Southern Ontario
In Canada, eastern flowering dogwood (Cornus florida L.) is an endangered tree that occurs only in the Carolinian forest of southern Ontario. Threats to this species include habitat fragmentation and the fungal pathogen dogwood anthracnose (Discula destructiva). I conducted a population genetic analysis using seven nuclear microsatellite markers to determine if fragmented populations are genetically isolated from one another and have low levels of genetic diversity. Genetic comparisons suggest on-going dispersal among sites and relatively high genetic diversity within most sites; however, smaller populations and younger trees were less genetically diverse. I also used linear mixed effects models to assess potential relationships between several ecological variables and the prevalence of dogwood anthracnose. Disease severity was higher in trees on shallow slopes and in larger trees; the latter also had higher likelihood of infection. Insights from this study will be important to incorporate into future management strategies. Author Keywords: Cornus florida, Discula destructiva, dogwood anthracnose, Eastern flowering dogwood, endangered, population genetics
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
Assessment of the impacts of noise and vessel traffic on the distribution, abundance and density of Chinese humpback dolphins (Sousa chinensis chinensis) in the waters of Hong Kong
Marine mammals with near-shore distributions are susceptible to human-related recreational and commercial disturbances, particularly near densely populated and industrialized coastal areas. A population of over 2,500 Chinese humpback dolphins (Sousa chinensis chinensis) occupies the Pearl River Estuary in southern China. A part of this population uses Hong Kong’s waters off of Lantau Island, where they are subjected to a number of anthropogenic threats, including vessel disturbance, fisheries interactions, and boat-based tourism. Previous research has shown that the abundance of this subspecies in Hong Kong’s waters has declined about 60% since 2003. Using a combination of acoustic recordings, dolphin distribution and abundance data, and vessel traffic information I found that: 1) Four types of vessels common to the waters on Hong Kong generate noise that is audible to Sousa chinensis chinensis; 2) The spatial distribution of underwater noise in Hong Kong’s waters does not significantly vary among the six sites sampled; 3) High-speed ferry traffic and passenger volume has increased dramatically during the study period; 4) There has been a significant decline in dolphin density in areas within and near vessel traffic; and 5) Dolphins are most at risk of vessel collisions and being exposed to vessel noise near Fan Lau and within the Urmston Road waterway just northeast of the Sha Chau and Lung Kwu Chau Marine Park . These results can inform future acoustic studies on this species and guide conservation and management efforts in Hong Kong. Author Keywords: Human impacts, Humpback dolphin, Management, Noise, Sousa chinensis chinensis, Vessel traffic


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