Graduate Theses & Dissertations

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Patterns of Vegetation Succession on Nickel-Copper Mine Tailings near Sudbury, Ontario
Natural establishment of vegetation on mine tailings is generally limited. Understanding the processes leading to vegetation germination and the survival mechanisms that vegetation species employ in these harsh environments is critical to future remediation efforts. As metalliferous mine tailings are generally nutrient-poor, high in harmful metals, and acidic, vegetation species require distinct mechanisms to germinate and survive in such harsh environments. In this study, edaphic and biotic factors linked to vegetation establishment and diversity were studied at two nickel-copper (Ni-Cu) tailings sites near Sudbury, Ontario. One site had experienced minimal treatment, and the second site was split into partial (hand-distribution of lime) and full (lime, fertilizer, seeding) treatment areas. Tailings were generally acidic, low in organic matter and “available” nutrients, and high in metals such as Al, Cu, Fe, and Ni, but these physical and chemical properties were extremely spatially variable. At both sites, vegetation was distributed in sparse patches, with the greatest diversity in treated areas. There was no clear link between metals and vegetation establishment/diversity at the sites. The primary limiting nutrients on the tailings were phosphorous (P) and potassium (K), and while there were areas of increased soil fertility at the sites, they were not clearly associated with increased vegetation diversity. Both traditional ecological succession and nucleation succession patterns were observed on the site, and the chief species associated with nucleation were primary colonizing trees such as B. papyrifera and P. tremuloides. The relationship between B. papyrifera nutrient retranslocation and tailings restoration was assessed and while B. papyrifera at the sites were deficient in P and K, the trees efficiently retranslocated both P and K during senescence. This research can provide insight into possibilities for future revegetation of similar tailings, enabling industry to make educated decisions when choosing where and how to revegetate, mimicking natural succession patterns. Author Keywords: Acid-mine drainage, Betula papyrifera, ecosystem health, metals, Sudbury, tailings
Active layer thermal regime in subarctic wetlands at the southern edge of continuous permafrost in Canada
The fine-scale controls of active layer dynamics in the subarctic at the southern edge of continuous permafrost are currently poorly understood. The goal of this thesis was to understand how environmental conditions associated with upland tundra heath, open graminoid fen, and palsas/peat plateaus affected active layer thermal regime in a subarctic peatland in northern Canada. Indices of active layer thermal regime were derived from in-situ measurements of ground temperature and related to local measurements of air temperature, snow depth, and surface soil moisture. Active layer thaw patterns differed among landforms, with palsas and tundra heath having the least and greatest amount of thaw, respectively. Tundra heath thaw patterns were influenced by the presence of gravel and sandy soils, which had higher thermal conductivity than the mineral and organic soils of fens and palsas. Vegetation also influenced thaw patterns; the lichen cover of palsas better protected the landform from incoming solar radiation than the moss, lichen, and low-lying shrub cover of upland tundra heath, thus allowing for cooler ground temperatures. Air temperature was the most significant predictor of active layer thermal regime. Surface soil moisture varied among landforms and greater surface soil moisture reduced the amount of active layer thaw. These findings improved understanding of how landform and climate can interact to affect the active layer. Author Keywords: Active layer thermal regime, Active layer thickness, Climate change, Peatland, Permafrost, Subarctic
Differential expression of cytochrome b5s in Giardia intestinalis during nitrosative stress and encystation
The waterborne protozoan Giardia intestinalis cycles between the environmentally-resistant and infectious cyst and the metabolically-active trophozoite that adheres to the epithelial lining of the small intestine. Adhesion can trigger the innate immune response in epithelial cells, including the synthesis of the free radical nitric oxide (NO) that inhibits cell proliferation and encystation of trophozoites. In this work changes in protein expression of three Giardia isotypes of the redox heme protein cytochrome b5 (gCYTb5 I, II and III) were studied in response to either nitrosative stress or induction of encystation. Two nitrosative stressors, sodium nitrite and the NO donor DETA-NONOate, were used at sub-lethal concentrations (0.5 mM and 0.05 mM, respectively) that do not affect cell proliferation until later time points so that subtle changes in protein expression could be observed in the absence of other confounding factors. Nucleolar gCYTb5-I and nucleoplasmic gCYTb5-III expression patterns were similar in trophozoites exposed to either stressor, showing gradual increases in expression with peaks between 4 and 12 hours, which indicates these cytochromes respond to nitrosative stress and possibly to potential DNA damage in Giardia. In contrast, gCYTb5-II of the peripheral vacuoles, which are part of the endocytic pathway of Giardia, showed little change in expression in response to either stressor. However, changes in gCYTb5-II expression were observed in encysting trophozoites, with a 1.4-fold increase in protein levels at seven hours after induction of encystation, followed by a gradual decrease in expression. These changes are consistent with previous mRNA analysis done in our laboratory and suggest a role for gCYTb5-II in the increase in nutrient uptake during early encystation. Author Keywords: cytochrome, encystation, Giardia, heme, nitrosative, parasite
Fungi and Cytokinins
Cytokinin biosynthesis in organisms aside from plant species has often been viewed as a byproduct of tRNA degradation. Recent evidence suggests that these tRNA degradation products may actually have a role in the development of these organisms, particularly fungi. This thesis examines the importance of cytokinins, a group of phytohormones involved in plant cell division and differentiation as well as the phytohormone abscisic acid, involved in plant response to environmental factors, and their presence and role in fungi. An initial survey was conducted on 20 temperate forest fungi of differing nutritional modes. Using HPLC-ESI MS/MS, cytokinin and abscisic acid were detected in all fungi regardless of their mode of nutrition or phylogeny. The detection of the same seven CKs across all fungi suggested the existence of a common CK biosynthetic pathway and dominance of the tRNA pathway in fungi. Further, the corn smut fungus Ustilago maydis is capable of producing CKs separate from its host and different U. maydis strains induce disease symptoms of differing severity. To determine if CK production during infection alters disease development a disease time course was conducted on cob tissue infected with U. maydis dikaryotic and solopathogenic strains. Dramatic changes in phytohormones including an increase in ABA followed by increases in cisZCKs were detected in tumour tissue particularity in the more virulent dikaryon infection, suggesting a role for CKs in strain virulence. Mining of the U. maydis genome identified a sole tRNA-isopentenyltransferase, a key enzyme in CK biosynthesis. Targeted gene deletion mutants were created in U. maydis which halted U. maydis CK production and decreased pathogenesis and virulence in seedling and cob infections. CK and ABA profiling carried out during disease development found that key changes in these hormones were not found in deletion mutant infections and cob tumour development was severely impaired. These findings suggested that U. maydis CK production is necessary for tumour development in this pathosystem. The research presented in this thesis highlights the importance of fungal CKs, outlines the dominant CK pathway in fungi, identifies a key enzyme in U. maydis CK biosynthesis and reveals the necessity of CK production by U. maydis in the development of cob tumours. Author Keywords: abscisic acid, cytokinins, high performance liquid chromatography-electrospray ionization tandem mass spectrometry, tRNA degradation pathway, Ustilago maydis, Zea mays
Functional Genetic Diversity in American Mink (Neovison vison)
The release of domestic organisms to the wild is considered a threat to biodiversity because the introduction of domestic genes through interbreeding can negatively impact wild conspecifics via outbreeding and local extinction. In North America, captive American mink (Neovison vison) are frequently escaping into the wild, yet the impact of these events on the functional genetic diversity of wild mink populations is unclear. I characterized domestic and wild mink in Ontario at 17 trinucleotide microsatellites located in functional genes thought to be associated with traits affected by domestication. I found low functional genetic diversity, as only 4 of 17 genes were variable and of those four there was little evidence of allele frequency differences between domestic and wild mink. Using redundancy analysis and a spatial analysis of principal components on the four variable loci (AR, ATN1, IGF-1, and TOB1) I found no evidence to suggest domestic release events are affecting functional genetic diversity of free-ranging mink at the set of markers assessed. Author Keywords: American mink, domestication, functional gene, introgression, Neovison vison
Habitat selection by sympatric Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis) and bobcat (Lynx rufus)
Range expansion by the bobcat (Lynx rufus) may be contributing to range contraction by the Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis), but interactions between them are not well understood. To investigate the potential for competition, I conducted a literature review of hierarchical habitat selection by these two species. I determined that the lynx and the bobcat select different resources at the first and second orders, and that the fourth order is under-studied compared to higher orders. I therefore conducted a snow-tracking study of fine-scale habitat selection by lynx and bobcat in an area of sympatry in northern Ontario. I found that the two species selected similar resources at the fourth order, but appeared to be allopatric at the level of the home range. These results suggest that competition is unlikely to occur between lynx and bobcat, and other factors should be considered as more probable causes of the lynx range contraction. Author Keywords: Bobcat, Canada lynx, Competition, Habitat selection, Scale, Snow tracking
Social discrimination by female polar bears (Ursus maritimus) when accompanied by dependent offspring during the ice-free season in southern and western Hudson Bay and James Bay
Polar bears are generally described as solitary, but features of their life cycles and habitats regularly necessitate interaction. Effective conspecific assessment, including accurate recognition and discrimination, likely confers benefits, especially to females accompanied by dependent young. Individuals in the Southern (SH) and Western (WH) Hudson Bay subpopulations are ideal for studying polar bear social behaviours because of the prolonged high densities of the ice-free season. First, I looked outside family groups to model their fine scale sociospatial organization on land. Capture locations were more likely to correspond to family groups when there were fewer neighbouring bears, when a greater proportion of neighbours were female, and when the focal individual and neighbours were significantly related. Second, I looked within the family group to assess offspring recognition. Of 288 offspring in 207 family groups captured in the SH subpopulation from 1999 through 2013, only one case of adoption (of a singleton) was observed. Author Keywords: Adoption, Kin Recognition, Logistic Regression, Maternity Analysis, Social Discrimination, Sociospatial
Development of genetic profiles for paternity analysis and individual identification of the North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis)
The endangered North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis) has been internationally protected from whaling since 1935 but recovery has been slow compared to the southern right whale (Eubalaena australis) due to anthropogenic mortalities and poor reproduction. Prey availability, genetic variability, and alleles of genes associated with reproductive dysfunction have been hypothesized to contribute to low calf production. The North Atlantic Right Whale DNA Bank and Database contains 1168 samples from 603 individuals. I added 115 new genetic profiles to the database which now contains profiles for 81% of individuals alive since 1980. Paternity assignments using these profiles resulted in 62% of sampled calves being assigned a father and only 38% of candidate males being assigned a paternity. This may suggest false exclusion due to genotyping errors or the existence of an unknown group of males. The use of the DNA database allowed for the identification of 10 deceased individuals which has implications for identifying cause of death and reducing mortalities. However, genetic identification is dependent on the time of post-mortem sample collection which influences DNA quantity and quality. An assessment for variations in methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase, a candidate gene associated with reproductive dysfunction, revealed six females heterozygous for a synonymous A/T variant in exon four which may influence reproductive success through changes in enzyme production, conformation or activity. Author Keywords: Eubalaena glacialis, Forensic Identification, Genetic Profiling, North Atlantic Right Whale, Paternity, Reproductive Dysfunction
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
Effects of Geographic Factors on the Wild Harvest of Large Mammals across North America
While the harvest of mammals is monitored in each jurisdiction across Canada and the USA, there has been no analysis of this wild harvest at a continental scale across North America. The recreational wild harvest of large mammals varies geographically across North America, and I hypothesized that this variation is influenced by both anthropogenic and other environmental factors on the landscape. I tested this hypothesis using annual harvest tallies collected by Conservation Visions Inc. for mammals for each state, provincial, and territorial jurisdiction in Canada and the USA. I built multiple additive models of the harvest, in one harvest year, 2015 – 2016, to test for landscape gradients that explain the variation in harvest levels for seven large mammal species: white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), black bear (Ursus americanus), bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis), elk (Cervus canadensis), mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus), pronghorn (Antilocapra americana), and moose (Alces alces). I built these models from a suite of nine putative predictor variables that comprised landcover, human footprint, and evapotranspiration. For all large mammal species except for pronghorn, anthropogenic influence had a positive effect on the wild harvest density, consistent with the idea that the proximity of human populations and roads are important for fostering wild harvest activity by providing hunters access to hunting areas. The harvest of white-tailed deer, elk, and pronghorn were negatively affected by vegetation structure, urbanization, and primary productivity, respectively. Understanding the recreational wild harvest at a broad-spatial scale provides a unique perspective of the North American model of wildlife conservation and spurs future comparative analyses of the wild harvest across spatial scales. Author Keywords: Anthropogenic Influence, Hunting, Large Mammals, Primary Productivity, Vegetation Structure, Wild Harvest
Complex niche determinants in terrestrial salamanders
I assessed how organisms having multiple biotic attributes may have conflicting niche determinants, and whether the realized niche reflects single or multiple attributes. All-female salamanders engage in two biotic states: hybridism and reproductive parasitism. Hybrids should occupy areas transitional to those used by parental species, whereas parasites that engage in competition with hosts should occupy habitats moderately suitable for hosts. Using niche models, I predicted realized niches for unisexual Ambystoma via a hybrid model (environmental predictors) and a parasite model (host suitability predictors). The hybrid model predicted that the unisexual niche would indeed be transitional between parental Ambystoma spp. The parasite model demonstrated unisexual salamanders occupied habitats moderately suitable for hosts, though model validation did not fully corroborate its predictive power. The hybrid model was more descriptive of unisexual occurrence than the parasite model. When species have competing ecological roles a primary biotic attribute may largely derive the realized niche. Author Keywords: Ambystoma, hybrid, niche, parasite, range, unisexual
Nutritional stoichiometry and growth of filamentous green algae (Family Zygnemataceae) in response to variable nutrient supply
In this study, I investigate the effects of nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) on the nutritional stoichiometry and growth of filamentous green algae of the family Zygnemataceae in situ and ex situ. I found a mean of Carbon (C):N:P ratio of 1308:66:1 for populations growing in the Kawartha Lakes of southern Ontario during the summer of 2012. FGA stoichiometry was variable, with much of the variation in algal P related to sediment P (p < 0.005, R2 = 0.58). Despite large variability in their cellular nutrient stoichiometry, laboratory analysis revealed that Mougeotia growth rates remained relatively consistent around 0.28 day-1. In addition, Mougeotia was found to be weakly homeostatic with respect to TDN:TDP supply (1/HNP = 0.32). These results suggest that FGA stoichiometry and growth rates are affected by sediment and water N and P. However, they will likely continue to grow slowly throughout the summer despite variable nutrient supply. Author Keywords: Chlorophyll concentration, Filamentous algae, Growth rate, Homeostatic regulation, Nutritional stoichiometry

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