Graduate Theses & Dissertations


Combining Line Transect Sampling and Photographic-Identification Surveys to Investigate the Abundance and Distribution of Cetaceans
Line transect sampling and photographic-identification (photo-ID) are common survey techniques for estimating the abundance and distribution of cetaceans. Combining these approaches in the field (‘combined LTPI’ surveys) and using data from both components has the potential for generating comprehensive ecological knowledge that can be far more valuable than when these techniques and their data are used independently. In this thesis, I evaluated the results and conclusions from these two methods, used singly and in tandem, by investigating the population dynamics of two humpback dolphin (Sousa chinensis spp.) populations: the large and widely distributed Chinese white dolphin (S. c. chinensis) of the Pearl River estuary (PRE), and the small and geographically isolated subspecies of Taiwanese white dolphin (S. c. taiwanensis) in the eastern Taiwan Strait. Data from combined LTPI surveys in Hong Kong waters, at the eastern edge of the PRE, revealed a shift in space use with individuals spending less time in these waters than at the start of surveys. Data from combined LTPI surveys in Taiwan provided further support for a subspecies restricted to the central western waters, and identified a commonly used area at the northern part of their limited range. These two case studies demonstrated an overall efficacy of combined LTPI surveys in ecological studies of cetaceans. However, a multi-criteria analysis revealed that combined LTPI surveys with a line transect focus (e.g., Hong Kong) performed better than a LTPI survey with a photo-ID focus (e.g., Taiwan) when considering ecological aspects of the study populations, labour and data requirements, and ecological output. Even so, the photo-ID focus of Taiwan’s monitoring program led to better assessments of individual space use patterns, likely helped by the Taiwanese white dolphin population’s smaller size and intensive photographic effort. In both cases, the ecological output of combined LTPI surveys could be improved by expanding the study area or extending the field season or frequency of surveys. Overall, I showed that by following a set of general guidelines, different iterations of the combined LTPI approach (i.e., photo-ID focus or LT focus) can serve as powerful tools for uncovering multi-dimensional ecological information on cetaceans. Author Keywords: abundance, cetacean, distribution, line transect sampling, multi-criteria analysis, Photo-ID
Using genomic and phenotypic data to explore the evolution and ecology of the North American mountain goat
Evaluating the impact of climate change is arguably one of the main goals of conservation biology, which can be addressed in part by studying the demographic history of species in the region of interest. In North America, landscape and species composition during the most recent Pleistocene epoch was primarily influenced by glaciation cycles. Glacial advance and retreat caused species ranges to shift as well, leaving signatures of past population bottlenecks in the genetic code of most species. Genomic tools have shown to be important tools for understanding these demographic events to enhance conservation biology measures in several species. In my thesis I first reviewed the state of ungulate genomics, with a focus on how such data sets can be used in understand demography, adaptation, and inform conservation and management. Importantly, the review introduces key analyses like the pairwise sequentially Markovian coalescent and features like variation in antlers and horns and selection pressures that are used throughout subsequent chapters. Using the North American mountain goat as a model species, I then explored the genomic and phenotypic variation in this alpine specialist mammal. Starting with the generation of the first genome assembly for the mountain goat, I identified genes unique to the mountain goat and modeled demographic history going back millions of years using a pairwise sequentially Markovian coalescent approach. Species’ effective population size generally paralleled climatic trends over the past one hundred thousand years and severely declined to under a thousand individuals during the last glacial maximum. Given the biological importance of horns in mountain goats and the recent scientific interest in genetic basis of headgear, I analyzed over 23,000 horn records from goats harvested in British Columbia, Alaska and Northwest Territories from 1980 to 2017. Overall, variation in horn size over space and time was low; goats harvested further North had shorter horn lengths and smaller horn circumferences in one year old and 4 years and older age classes and 4 years and older age class, respectively. Proximity of roads, which was used as an indicator of artificial selection, had a small effect on horn size, with larger horns being harvested closer to major roads. Finally, I used two range-wide genomic data sets sequenced with a whole genome re-sequencing and reduced representation approaches to provide estimates of genetic diversity, contemporary effective population sizes and population structure. These insights can help inform management and will potentially make an impact in preserving the mountain goat. Author Keywords: genome assembly, horn size, Oreamnos americanus, population demography, reduced representation sequencing, whole genome resequencing
Landscape fitness
Variation in habitat quality and disturbance levels can strongly influence a species’ distribution, leading to spatial variation in population density and influencing population dynamics. It is therefore critical to understand how density can lead to variability in demographic responses for effective conservation and recovery of species. My dissertation illustrates how density and spatial familial networks can be integrated together to gain a better understanding of the influence of density on population dynamics of boreal caribou. First, I created an analytical framework to assess results from empirical studies to inform spatially-explicit capture-recapture sampling design, using both simulated and empirical data from noninvasive genetic sampling of several boreal caribou populations in Alberta, Canada, which varied in range size and estimated population density. Analysis of the empirical data indicated that reduced sampling intensity had a greater impact on density estimates in smaller ranges, and the best sampling designs did not differ with estimated population density but differed between large and small population ranges. Secondly, I used parent-offspring relationships to construct familial networks of boreal caribou in Saskatchewan, Canada to inform recovery efforts. Using network measures, I assessed the contribution of individual caribou to the population with several centrality measures and then determined which measures were best suited to inform on the population demographic structure. I found substantial differences in the centrality of individuals in different local areas, highlighting the importance of analyzing familial networks at different spatial scales. The network revealed that boreal caribou in Saskatchewan form a complex, interconnected familial network. These results identified individuals presenting different fitness levels, short- and long-distance dispersing ability across the range, and can be used in support of population monitoring and recovery efforts. Finally, I used a spatial capture-recapture analytical framework with covariates to estimate spatial density of boreal woodland caribou across the Saskatchewan Boreal Plains, and then reconstructed parent-offspring relationships to create a familial network of caribou and determined whether spatial density influenced sex-specific network centrality, dispersal distance, individual reproductive success, and the pregnancy status of females. I show that caribou densitygreatly varied across the landscape and was primarily affected by landscape composition and fragmentation, and density had sex-specific influences on dispersal distance, reproductive success, and network centrality. The high density areas reflected good-quality caribou habitat, and the decreased dispersal rates and female reproductive output suggest that these remnant patches of habitat may be influencing demographic responses of caribou. Author Keywords: boreal caribou, density, familial networks, population dynamics, rangifer tarandus caribou, spatial capture-recapture
Assessing effects and fate of environmental contaminants in invasive, native, and endangered macrophytes
Macrophytes play an important role in aquatic ecosystems, and thus are integral to ecological risk assessments of environmental contaminants. In this dissertation, I address gaps in the assessments of contaminant fate and effects in macrophytes, with focus on glyphosate herbicide use for invasive plant control. First, I evaluated the suitability of Typha as future standard test species to represent emergent macrophytes in risk assessments. I concluded that Typha is ecologically relevant, straight-forward to grow, and its sensitivity can be assessed with various morphological and physiological endpoints. Second, I assessed effects from glyphosate (Roundup WeatherMAX® formulation) spray drift exposure on emergent non-target macrophytes. I performed toxicity tests with five taxa, Phragmites australis, Typha × glauca, Typha latifolia, Ammannia robusta, and Sida hermaphrodita, which in Canada collectively represent invasive, native, and endangered species. I found significant differences in glyphosate sensitivity among genera, and all species’ growth was adversely affected at concentrations as low as 0.1% (0.54 g/L), much below the currently used rate (5%, 27 g/L). Third, I assessed the potential for glyphosate accumulation in and release from treated plant tissues. I found that P. australis and T. × glauca accumulate glyphosate following spray treatment, and that accumulated glyphosate can leach out of treated plant tissues upon their submergence in water. Finally, I assessed effects of released glyphosate on non-target macrophytes. I found that P. australis and T. × glauca leachate containing glyphosate residues can stimulate the germination and seedling growth of T. latifolia, but can exert an inhibiting effect on A. robusta, although leachate without glyphosate caused similar responses in both plants. Additionally, I found no negative effects in A. robusta when exposed to glyphosate residues in surface water, or when grown with rhizosphere contact to an invasive plant that was wicked (touched) with glyphosate. My results show that non-target macrophytes can be at risk from glyphosate spray for invasive plant control, but risks can be mitigated through informed ecosystem management activities, such as targeted wick-applications or removing plant litter. Integrating contaminant fate and effect assessments with emergent macrophytes into ecological risk assessments can support the protection of diverse macrophyte communities. Author Keywords: Ecosystem management, Ecotoxicology, Glyphosate, Herbicide, Invasive plant, Species at risk
Landscape and its Discontents - Art and Ruins, a Critical Topography in Word and Image
From Altdorfer and Poussin to Cézanne, Monet and to the Group of Seven, landscape has been a focal point of artistic inspiration for most of what we think of as modern art history. In contemporary times the concept and representation of landscape has shifted from visions of an idealized and exalted place to notions of the landscape as a ruins and site of ecological disaster. Because of this seismic inversion, artists are no longer solely making visual the beauty and serenity of nature but are rather finding novel ways of problematizing it and incorporating themes of its eventual disappearance, its inescapable transformation into ruins. The following dissertation puts forward a critical topographical study of three sites and three different artists who deal with this new found relationship to landscape. The three landscapes are located in different parts of the world and from different artistic contexts yet showing that they retain an aesthetic and conceptual character that links them together is part of the work of the dissertation. The first site is El Sol del Membrillo, a film by Víctor Erice in which the filmmaker chronicles painter Antonio Lopez García’s attempts to paint the ephemeral, he attempts to paint that which is in the act of disappearing. The second site is The Mill St Cemetery in Cambridge, England where artist Gordon Young has contributed a work of public art titled Bird Stones that blurs the line between landscape, sculpture, monument and artwork. The third and final site is Tommy Thompson Park in Toronto, Canada that presents itself as an ecology park of retrieval, recovery and as a public art space. My investigation of this last regional research site is offered both as a chapter and as a videography about wilderness as wasteland. Author Keywords: Aesthetics, Anthropocene, Art, Cinema, El Sol del Membrillo, Toronto: The Leslie Spit
Behavioural ecology and population dynamics of freshwater turtles in a semi-urban landscape at their northern range limit
Species are faced with a variety of challenges in the environment, including natural challenges, such as variability in ambient temperature, and anthropogenic threats, such as habitat transformation associated with urbanisation. Understanding how animals respond to these kinds of challenges can advance the field of behavioural ecology and guide management decisions for wild species. Yet, we still have limited understanding of the extent of natural and human-caused impacts on animal behaviour and population dynamics, and lack robust assessment of behaviour in free-ranging animals. Using novel miniaturised biologging technologies, I characterised and validated behaviour in two freshwater turtle species: Blanding’s turtles (Emydoidea blandingii) and Painted turtles (Chrysemys picta). Further, I investigated how these two ectothermic species navigate a thermally heterogeneous landscape near their northern range limit, by comparing selected and available ambient temperatures. I showed that turtles preferred locations that were, on average, warmer and less variable in temperature than the available environment, and that this thermal sensitivity was greatest early in the year, and at fine spatial scales that likely matched the species' perception of the environment. Lastly, I assessed whether urban development was compatible with long-term viability of a Blanding’s turtle population, by monitoring habitat change and turtle survival over one decade of ongoing residential and road development. I found that Blanding’s turtle habitat quantity and connectivity declined in the area, which coincided with high road mortality and severe declines in turtle survival and population size, especially in adult females. I concluded that urban development and current road mortality rates are incompatible with the long-term viability of this at-risk turtle population. Overall, my findings demonstrate the importance of variation in the thermal environment and anthropogenic impacts on habitat in shaping the behaviour and population dynamics of this species-at-risk. Author Keywords: animal behaviour, biologging, ectotherms, habitat selection, temperature, urbanisation
Cartoons Ain't Human
Why show things that aren’t people acting like people? In the field of animation, it’s a surprisingly big “why?”, because it’s a “why?” that doesn’t lead to any sort of doctrine of ontology, of inevitability, of manifest destiny, or of anything like that. But it does lead to another “why?”—“why did anthropomorphic depictions of animals and non-human entities come to define an entire era of American short-form animation?” When we think about ‘classic era’ cartoon shorts, the first names that come to mind are likely to be those of anthropomorphic animal characters—Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, and a list of others so numerous that any machine Wile E. Coyote tried to build to count them all would probably explode. This can make us lose sight of the fact that human characters had their place as well in these films: Bugs and Daffy regularly tangled with Elmer Fudd; the studio that made cartoon stars of Betty Boop and Popeye produced no famous animal characters at all in its heyday. And yet, it’s the animals that steal the show in the animated shorts produced by major studios in America from the 1920s through the 1960s. Part of their appeal lies in the fact that they were useful and recognizable substitutes for humans. Without making things too ‘personal’ for the audience, they could be used to examine and deconstruct social practices in the full-speed-ahead period that took America from World War I to the war in Vietnam. Animals weren’t the only ones to get a full-on anthropomorphic treatment in these shorts. Machines and other artefacts came to life and became sites of interrogation for contemporary anxieties about the twentieth century’s ever-expanding technological infrastructure; parts of the natural world, from plant life to the weather, acted with minds of their own in ways that harken back to the earliest animistic folk beliefs. No matter when or how it’s being used, anthropomorphism in animation is a device for answering, not one big “why?”, but a lot of little “why?”s. What you’re about to read is an exploration of a few of those little “why?”s. Author Keywords: America, Animation, Anthropomorphism, Cartoons, Deconstruction, Popular Culture
Islands, ungulates, and ice
Central to wildlife conservation and management is the need for refined, spatially explicit knowledge on the diversity and distribution of species and the factors that drive those patterns. This is especially vital as anthropogenic disturbance threatens rapid large-scale change, even in the most remote areas of the planet. My dissertation examines theinfluence of land- and sea-scape heterogeneity on patterns of genetic differentiation, diversity, and broad-scale distributions of island-dwelling ungulates in the Arctic Archipelago. First, I investigated genetic differentiation among island populations of Peary caribou (Rangifer tarandus pearyi) in contrast to continental migratory caribou (Rangifer tarandus) and evaluated whether genetic exchange among Peary caribou island populations was limited by the availability of sea ice – both now and in the future. Differentiation among both groups was best explained by geodesic distance, revealing sea ice as an effective platform for Peary caribou movement and gene flow. With future climate warming, substantial reductions in sea ice extent were forecast which significantly increased resistance to caribou movement, particularly in summer and fall. Second, I assessed genetic population structure and diversity of northern caribou and deciphered how Island Biogeography Theory (IBT) and Central Marginal Hypothesis (CMH) could act in an archipelago where isolation is highly variable due to the dynamics of sea ice. Genetic differentiation among continental and island populations was low to moderate. In keeping with IBT and CMH, island-dwelling caribou displayed lower genetic diversity compared to mainland and mainland migratory herds; the size of islands (or population range) positively influenced genetic diversity, while distance-to-mainland and fall ice-free coastlines negatively influenced genetic diversity. Hierarchical structure analysis revealed multiple units of caribou diversity below the species level. Third, I shifted my focus to the terrestrial landscape and explored the elements governing species-environment relationships. Using species distribution models, I tested the response of caribou and muskoxen to abiotic versus abiotic + biotic predictors, and included distance to heterospecifics as a proxy for competitive interactions. Models that included biotic predictors outperformed models with abiotic predictors alone, and biotic predictors were most important when identifying habitat suitability for both ungulates. Further, areas of high habitat suitability for caribou and muskoxen were largely disjunct, limited in extent, and mainly outside protected areas. Finally, I modelled functional connectivity for two genetically and spatially disjunct groups of island-dwelling caribou. For High Arctic caribou, natural and anthropogenic features impeded gene flow (isolation-by-resistance); for Baffin Island caribou we found panmixia with absence of isolation-by-distance. Overall, my dissertation demonstrates the varying influences of contemporary land- and sea-scape heterogeneity on the distribution, diversity and differentiation of Arctic ungulates and it highlights the vulnerability of island-dwelling caribou to a rapidly changing Arctic environment. Author Keywords: Circuitscape, connectivity, Island Biogeography, landscape genetics, population structure, species distribution models
Nutrigenomics of Daphnia
Organismal nutrition lies at the interface between biotic and abiotic factors in an ecosystem, dictating the transfer of energy and nutrients across trophic levels. Our ability to detect nutritional limitation in consumers is reliant on a priori knowledge of dietary history due to our inability to differentiate nutrient stress based on body-wide responses. Molecular physiological responses are increasingly being used to measure physiological stress with high levels of specificity due to the specific modes of action ecological stressors have on organismal molecular physiology. Because animal consumers respond to varying nutrient supplies by up- and down-regulating nutrient-specific metabolic pathways, we can quantify nutritional status by quantifying the expression of those pathways. Here I present an investigation into the use of transcriptomics to detect nutritional stress in the keystone aquatic herbivore, Daphnia pulex, I use RNAseq and quantitative PCR (qPCR) identify nutritional indicator genes. I found that nutritional status could be determined with 100% accuracy with just ten genes. Additionally, the functional annotation of those genes uncovered previously unidentified responses to dietary stress. Further testing and validation of the selected indicator genes is required however these findings have the potential to revolutionize our ability to measure and monitor consumer nutritional stress. Author Keywords: Biomarkers, Daphnia, Gene expression, Nutrigenomics, Nutritional ecology, RNAseq
Interseeded Cover Crops in Ontario Grain Corn Systems
Ontario grain corn is highly valuable, accounting for 60% of Canada’s total corn output. Grain producers are increasingly interested in including cover crops (CCs) in their cropping systems, but they have concerns regarding successful CC establishment and potential adverse competitive effects on corn yield and nutrient status. One option to improve the success of CC establishment is the interseeding in corn at the V4 -V6 stages. Interseeding improves the chances of good CC establishment, with potential benefits for soil health, weed control, and plant productivity. This thesis research was conducted to evaluate the short-term effectiveness of interseeding annual ryegrass (AR), red clover (RC), and their mixture (MIX) in grain corn at three locations in central and southwestern Ontario. Cover crop and corn yields, and their nitrogen (N) uptake, residual soil N, soil biological parameters, weed biomass, and residue decomposition rates were measured. CC biomass was highly variable (range: 0 - 1.6 Mg ha-1), influenced by climatic conditions, location, and CC type. Total carbon (C) and N contributions from CCs were similarly influenced by site-year and CC type. Regression analyses showed significant influence of corn biomass on CC establishment. Red clover had a significantly lower C/N ratio (11.8) than AR (18.2) and MIX (15.6). Strikingly, the amount of CC biomass accumulated in early spring reduced weeds by 50%. Moreover, CCs did not reduce corn grain or stover yield, nor N uptake, and soil mineral N in either fall or spring. Soil metabolic activity measured by BIOLOG Ecoplates was significantly greater in plots with AR than RC, MIX or NOCC. Soil biological parameters showed no CC effect. Results of residue decomposition i.e., C and N mineralization showed negligible CC residue effects on corn stover decomposition or N immobilization. The findings from this research suggest the need for assessing a more diverse range of CCs over longer durations to establish more specific CC niches for improving soil health in Ontario corn systems. Author Keywords: CLPP, cover crops, grain corn, nitrogen uptake, residue decomposition, soil health
Speaking of Being
The central question of this research is “What is poetry?” The ambiguity and unintelligibility of the question itself forces the writing to take two different approaches to it. The first approach is to define poetry not by what it is but by how it is related to the human being and to the world. Seeing poetry as its relation to Being allows a definition of poetry based on its function. This approach draws on philosophical discussions how poetry is related to the human and how Being can be extended into poetic creation. Martin Heidegger’s move from seeing poetry as the possibility of worldmaking to seeing it as a place of dwelling, and, in his later works, as unconcealment and the extension of Being as the House of Being, marks the direction of philosophical discussions in this paper. In this sense, poetry is defined as a creative possibility, where the speaking being comes in close contact with the speaking things and speaks of being.The second approach is to define poetry not as a whole but as some of its essential parts, as “poetic imagination” for instance. This attempt to define the poetic imagination draws on long-running discussions of imagination, metaphor, metaphorical thinking, image and imaging. It also relies on Freud’s discussions of how dreams function as textual phenomena: the poetic imagination, this approach argues, is similar to dreaming. The poet’s conscious and unconscious engagements with language create an uncanny experience where the relation between object and its poetic image is simultaneously known and unknowable. The third part of this study focuses on Lacan’s move from the symbolic unconscious to the real unconscious, in order to shed light on how the real is related to its linguistic reality. This brings the discussion to a point where language is replaced by lalangue in order to knot the real directly to the symbolic. Author Keywords: poetic creation, poetic imagination, poetry
On Forests, Witness Trees, and Bears
This dissertation is about Forests, their loss and the grieving that arises from their loss. The loss of ancient and old-growth forests by way of clearcutting and or anthropogenically driven disturbances, including climate change, presents the quandary of loss of both biological and cultural diversity. Following Umeek’s/E. Richard Atleo’s term, I suggest that “dis-ease” in the dominant relationship to forests in parts of the Western world significantly rests within inherited cultural and political pasts at play in the present, carried in much of the language and lifeways of modern Anglophone societies today. I do so by a critical topographical exploration of thematic patterns that go back to the Epic of Gilgamesh, the oldest written account of deforestation in the history of Western civilization. I offer at the center of my inquiry a collection of witness trees as North American case studies. Each tree is a witness object, a station from which I confront and explore social-ecological grief as it has accumulated over time from English colonization, with one focusing on Indigenous cultural reclamation and place-based ecological co-management. Lastly, I turn to a multispecies exploration of social-ecological grief, using bears in North America as a face for reflection and consider who and what more is lost when old forests are degraded and gone. By asking the place question—“what place is this?”—of forests, or the Forest Question, my dissertation is thus an exploration of the connection and responsibilities to other place-based human and other-than-human communities in a rapidly changing climate. Author Keywords: critical topography, environmental grief, forests, multispecies, social-ecological relations, witness trees


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