Graduate Theses & Dissertations


Ecosystem Response to Above Canopy Nitrogen Addition in a Jack Pine (Pinus banksiana) Forest in the Athabasca Bituminous Sands Region of Northeastern Alberta, Canada
In this study we seek to better understand the potential effects of short-term (5-year) N fertilization on jack pine forest biogeochemistry, vascular plant community composition and to project a temporal endpoint of nitrogen leaching below the major rooting zone. Aqueous ammonium nitrate (NH4NO3) was applied above the forest canopy across five treatment plots (20 x 80 m) four times annually. The experimental deposition gradient followed those known for localized areas around the major open pit operations at 0, 5, 10, 15, 20 and 25 kg N ha-1 yr-1 over a five-year period (2011 – 2015). Nitrate recovery in throughfall was significantly higher than NH4+ (p < 0.05), indicating canopy NH4+ immobilization. There was a strong treatment effect (p < 0.05) of N on the epiphytic lichen thalli concentrations of Hypogymnia physodes and Evernia mesomorpha after five years. The canopy appeared to approach saturation at the highest deposition load (25 kg N ha-1 yr-1) during the fifth year of N additions as most N added above the canopy was accounted for in throughfall and stemflow. The non-vascular (lichen and moss) vegetation pool above the forest floor was the largest receptor of N as cryptogam foliar and thalli N concentrations showed a significant treatment effect (p < 0.05). Nitrogen in decomposing litter (25 kg N ha-1 yr-1) remained immobilized after five years, while treatments ≤ 20 kg N ha-1 yr-1 started to mobilize. Understory vascular plant cover expansion was muted when deposition was ≥ 10 kg N ha-1 yr-1. Finally, modeling suggests the forest may not leach N below the rooting zone until around 50 years after chronic addition begin (25 kg N ha-1 yr-1). The modeling results are consistent with empirical data from a high exposure (~20 - 25 kg N ha-1 yr-1) jack pine site approximately 12 km west of the experimental site that has not yet experienced N leaching. Author Keywords: Biogeochemistry, Canopy, Deposition, Jack Pine, Nitrogen, Understory
Using DNA Barcoding to Investigate the Diet and Food Supply of a Declining Aerial Insectivote, the Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica)
Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) populations have declined in North America over the past 40 years and they are listed as Threatened in Ontario, Canada. Changes in the food supply have been hypothesized as a potential cause of this population decline. I used DNA barcoding to investigate the diet and food supply of Barn Swallows and to determine if the food supply affects their reproductive performance. In two breeding seasons, I monitored nests, collected fecal samples, and monitored prey availability by collecting insects from the habitat surrounding breeding sites using Malaise traps. I used DNA barcoding to identify insect specimens collected from the habitat and to identify prey items from Barn Swallow nestling fecal samples. I found that Barn Swallow nestlings were fed a very broad range of prey items but were fed larger prey items more frequently. Prey availability was not related to the timing of reproduction, the number of nests at a breeding site, or the reproductive output of individual nests. This study provides information on the diet composition of Barn Swallows in North America and suggests that food limitation during the breeding season may not be a major factor in their population decline. Author Keywords: aerial insectivore, diet, DNA barcoding, Hirundo rustica, metabarcoding, reproductive success
An Evaluation of Wastewater Treatment by Ozonation for Reductions in Micropollutant Toxicity to Fish
Micropollutants are discharged into the aquatic environment with industrial and domestic wastewater and these compounds may cause toxic effects in aquatic organisms. In this study, the toxic effects to fish of micropollutants extracted from ozonated and nonozonated municipal wastewater effluent (MWWE) were measured in order to assess the effectiveness of ozonation in reducing toxicity. Juvenile rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) injected with extracts prepared from ozonated MWWE had significantly reduced induction of plasma vitellogenin (VTG), significantly reduced hepatic total glutathione (tGSH) levels and an elevated oxidized-to-total glutathione (GSSG-to-tGSH) ratio. Exposure of Japanese medaka (Oryzias latipes) embryos to extracts prepared from both ozonated and non-ozonated MWWE resulted in elevated developmental toxicity in both treatment groups. These results indicate that wastewater treatment by ozonation reduces the estrogenicity of wastewater, but treatment may induce oxidative stress and embryonic developmental toxicity due to the production of toxic by-products. Author Keywords: Estrogenicity, Micropollutants, Oxidative stress, Ozonation, Toxic by-products, Wastewater
Temporo-spatial patterns of occupation and density by an invasive fish in streams
Since its introduction to North America in the 1990s, the Round Goby has spread throughout the Great Lakes, inland through rivers and is now moving into small tributary streams, a new environment for this species in both its native and invaded ranges. I explored density and temporal occupation of Round Gobies in four small streams in two systems in south-central Ontario, Canada in order to determine what habitat variables are the best predictors of goby density. Two streams are tributaries of Lake Ontario and two are tributaries of the Otonabee River, and all of these streams have barriers preventing upstream migration. I found that occupation and density differed between the systems. In the Otonabee River system, Round Gobies occupy the streams year round and the most important factor determining adult density is distance from a barrier to upstream movement, with the entire stream occupied but density highest next to the barriers. In the Lake Ontario system, density is highest at mid-stream and Round Gobies appear to occupy these streams mainly from spring to fall. Adult density in Lake Ontario tributaries is highest in sites with a high percentage of cobble/boulder and low percentage of gravel substrate, while substrate is less important in Otonabee River tributaries. Occupation and density patterns may differ due to contrasting environmental conditions in the source environments and distance to the first barrier preventing upstream movement. This study shows diversity in invasion strategies, and provides insight into the occurrence and movement patterns of this species in small, tributary streams. Author Keywords: biological invasion, Generalised Additive Mixed Model, habitat, Neogobius melanostomus, Round Goby, stream
successful invader in expansion
Researchers have shown increasing interest in biological invasions for the associated ecological and economic impacts as well as for the opportunities they offer to study the mechanisms that induce range expansion in novel environments. I investigated the strategies exhibited by invasive species that facilitate range expansion. Invasive populations exhibit shifts in life-history strategy that may enable appropriate responses to novel biotic and abiotic factors encountered during range expansion. The spatio-temporal scales at which these shifts occur are largely unexplored. Furthermore, it is not known whether the observed dynamic shifts represent a consistent biological response of a given species to range shifts, or whether the shifts are affected by the abiotic characteristics of the new systems. I examined the life-history responses of female round gobies Neogobius melanastomus across fine and coarser spatial scales behind the expansion front and investigated whether invasive populations encountering different environmental conditions (Ontario vs France) exhibited similar life-history shifts. In both study systems, I found an increase in reproductive investment at invasion fronts compared to longer established areas at coarse and fine scales. The results suggest a similar response to range shifts, or a common invasion strategy independent of environmental conditions experienced, and highlight the dynamic nature of an invasive population’s life history behind the invasion front. The second part of my research focused on the development of an appropriate eDNA method for detecting invasive species at early stages of invasion to enable early detection and rapid management response. I developed a simple, inexpensive device for collecting water samples at selected depths for eDNA analysis, including near the substrate where eDNA concentration of benthic species is likely elevated. I also developed a protocol to optimise DNA extraction from water samples that contain elevated concentration of inhibiters, in particular near-bottom samples. Paired testing of eDNA and conventional surveys was used to monitor round goby expansion along its invasion pathway. Round gobies were detected in more sites with eDNA, permitting earlier, more accurate, upstream detection of the expansion front. My study demonstrated the accuracy and the power of using eDNA survey method to locate invasion fronts. Author Keywords: Age-specific reproductive investment, DNA extraction, Energy allocation, Fecundity, Invasion front, Range expansion
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
Investigating wheat rust virulence evolution through transcriptome analysis of a recently emerged race of Puccinia triticina
Puccinia triticina, wheat leaf rust (WLR), is the most economically damaging fungal rust of wheat on a global scale. This study identified transcriptome changes in a recently emerged race of WLR in Ontario with a new virulence type relative to a possible ancestor race. Also, this study focused on detecting variation in candidate virulence genes and uncovering novel insight into WLR virulence evolution. Various race-by-variety interactions were evaluated using RNA-seq experiments. A list of genes with statistically significant expression changes in each comparison was prepared and predicted effectors were retained for further analysis. Proteins with nonsynonymous substitutions were run through BLASTx to identify potential orthologs. Over 100 candidate effectors with a 2-fold or higher change in transcript level were identified. Seven of these candidate effector genes were recognized to contain single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) which altered the amino acid sequence of the resulting protein. The information gained may aid in targeted breeding programs to combat new WLR races as well as provide the basis for functional analysis of WLR using potential orthologs in a model basidiomycete. Author Keywords: effectors, RNA-seq, rust fungi, SNPs, transcriptome, wheat leaf rust
Range dynamics of two closely related felids
Species ranges are changing and the rate at which the climate is warming is faster than anything previously seen in the past, consequently species will need to adapt quickly, track the climate or perish. Cold adapted terrestrial species are the most vulnerable, because they are limited by the availability of land at the cold edge of their range. This means that many alpine, boreal and polar species essentially have nowhere to go as the climate warms. Habitat generalists are widely distributed across the globe and are highly adaptable to anthropogenic change. Our future biodiversity may only consist of several habitat generalists. The Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis) is a boreal species that has limited range expansion potential at the cold end of its range and its range has already contracted by 40%. The lynx has nowhere to go as climate warming progresses in this current century. Therefore, understanding the causes of its range contraction could enlighten us on conservation and management strategies that we might undertake as climate warms. My analyses indicated that the Canada lynx seems to have tracked the habitat that it is adapted to in more northern homogenous boreal forests and the bobcat (Lynx rufus), a habitat generalist, has simply replaced it in the south. Author Keywords: Anthropogenic Change, Competition, Connectivity, Lynx canadensis, Lynx rufus, Range change
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
Evaluating Environmental DNA (eDNA) Detection of Invasive Water Soldier (Stratiotes Aloides)
In 2008, the first North American water soldier (Stratiotes aloides) population was discovered in the Trent River, Ontario. Water soldier is an invasive aquatic plant with sharp, serrated leaves that has the potential to spread rapidly through dispersed vegetative fragments. Although it is too late to prevent water soldier establishment in the Trent River, its local distribution remains limited. In this study, environmental DNA (eDNA) was explored as a potential tool for early detection of water soldier. Species-specific markers were designed from chloroplast DNA regions matK and rbcL, and a qPCR assay with rbcL primers yielded the most sensitive detection of water soldier eDNA. Positive detections were obtained from six of 40 sampling locations, of which five were collected in Seymour Lake, an area with large patches of water soldier. As water soldier plants were known to be present at these sites, high eDNA concentrations were expected. The sixth positive detection from Trent Lock 5 (50 km downstream of Lake Seymour) was unexpected as it was obtained at a site with no water soldier sightings. This is one of the first studies to demonstrate the effectiveness of eDNA detection from aquatic plants. Author Keywords: aquatic plant, eDNA, environmental DNA, invasive species, Stratiotes aloides, water soldier
Molecular Composition of Dissolved Organic Matter Controls Metal Speciation and Microbial Uptake
Aquatic contaminant mobility and biological availability is strongly governed by the complexation of organic and inorganic ligands. Dissolved organic matter (DOM) is a complex, heterogeneous mixture of organic acids, amino acids, lipids, carbohydrates and polyphenols that vary in composition and can complex to dissolved metals thereby altering their fate in aquatic systems. The research conducted in this doctoral dissertation addresses 1) how DOM composition differs between phytoplankton taxa and 2) how DOM composition affects metal speciation and its subsequent microbial bioavailability in laboratory and field conditions. To accomplish this, a series of analytical methods were developed and applied to quantify thiols, sulphur containing DOM moieties, and the molecular composition of DOM. The works presented in this thesis represents one of the first comprehensive and multipronged analyses of the impact of phytoplankton metabolite exudates on microbial metal bioavailability. This dissertation demonstrated the analytical versatility of high-resolution mass spectrometry as a tool for compound specific information, as well as having the capabilities to obtain speciation information of organometallic complexes. The work presented in this PhD strengthens the understanding compositional differences of both autochthonous and allochthonous DOM and their effects on metal biogeochemistry. Author Keywords: Dissolved Organic Matter, Mercury, Metal Accumulation, Phytoplankton, Spring Melts, Thiol
Many facilities attempt to alleviate the risk of chronic stress in captivity by providing environmental enrichment shown to minimize behavioural disorders and stress in several species. One potential form of enrichment used in zoos is training animals to perform rides for guests, however, the effect of this activity on the welfare of individual animals has never been examined. I validated the use of saliva for assessing stress in dromedary camels (Camelus dromedarius) an animal commonly used for rides. I then measured variation in salivary cortisol in four male camels during animal rides for guests at the Toronto Zoo. The camels were sampled during the ride season (from June to August) using four treatments: 1) in their pasture, 2) at the ride area not performing rides, 3) performing a low number of rides (n=50/day) and 4) performing a high number of rides (n=150/day). Furthermore, samples were taken before and after the ride season for comparison. There was a significant difference between the post-ride season treatment and the three treatments involving guest presence during the ride season (ride area, low rides, high rides. This indicates that performing rides is not a stressful experience based on the stress metrics I used, and suggests that rides may be a form of enrichment for dromedary camels. Author Keywords: ACTH challenge, animal welfare, camels, environmental enrichment, salivary cortisol, stress


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