Graduate Theses & Dissertations


Time-dependent effects of predation risk on stressor reactivity and growth in developing larval anurans (Lithobates pipiens)
The predator vs. prey dynamic is an omnipresent factor in ecological systems that may drive changes in life history patterns in prey animals through behavioural, morphological, and physiological changes. Predation risk can have profound effects on the life history events of an animal, and is influenced by the neuroendocrine stress response. Activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal/interrenal axis, and the induction of stress hormones (e.g., corticosterone (CORT)) have been shown to mediate the onset of inducible anti-predator defensive traits including increased tail-depth, and reduced activity. The predator-prey relationship between dragonfly nymphs and tadpoles can be a powerful model system for understanding mechanisms that facilitate changes in the stress response in accordance with altered severity of risk. It has been well demonstrated early in tadpole ontogeny that increased corticosterone (CORT) levels, observed within three weeks of predator exposure, are correlated with increased tail depth morphology. However, the reactivity of the stress response in relation to the growth modulation in developing prey has yet to be fully explored. Accordingly, this thesis assessed the stress and growth response processes in tadpoles that were continuously exposed to perceived predation risk later in ontogeny. Continuous exposure of prey to predation risk for three weeks significantly increased CORT levels, and tail depth. However, tadpoles exposed to six weeks of predation risk acclimated to the presence of the predator, which was observed as a significant reduction of stressor-induced CORT levels. In addition, although increased tail depth has been attributed to predator defense, predator-naïve tadpoles began to display similar tail depth morphology as treated tadpoles at the six week time point. Thus, this thesis suggests that the stress response in lower vertebrate systems (e.g., tadpoles) may operate in a similarly complex manner to that observed in higher vertebrates (e.g., rats), for which severity of risk associated with the stressor aids in defining activity of the stress response. Moreover, the lack of morphological difference between treatments among tadpoles exposed later in ontogeny suggests that the mechanisms for inducing defenses are normal morphological traits in the development of the animal. This thesis paves the way for future research to elucidate the relationship between the neuroendocrine stress response and hormonal pathways involved in growth modulation in the presence of environmental pressures. Author Keywords: Acclimation, Corticosterone, Growth Modulation, Predation Risk, R. pipiens, Tadpole
Land Cover Effects on Hydrologic Regime within Mixed Land Use Watersheds of East-Central Ontario
Land cover change has the potential to alter the hydrologic regime from its natural state. Southern Ontario contains the largest and fastest growing urban population in Canada as well as the majority of prime (Class I) agricultural land. Expansions in urban cover at the expense of agricultural land and resultant ‘agricultural intensification’, including expansion of tile drainage, have unknown effects on watershed hydrology. To investigate this, several streams with a range of landcovers and physiographic characteristics were monitored for two years to compare differences of flashiness and variability of streamflow using several hydrologic metrics. Urban watersheds were usually the flashiest while agriculture had moderate flashiness and natural watersheds were the least flashy across all seasons, signifying that landcover effects were consistent across seasons. Tile drainage increased stream flashiness during wet periods, but minimized the stream response to an extreme rain event in the summer, perhaps due to increases in soil moisture storage. A sixty-year flow analysis showed that flashiness and streamflow increased (p < 0.05) above a development threshold of ~10% of watershed area. Flashiness was also greater in wetter years suggesting that climate shifts may enhance stream variability in developed watersheds. Author Keywords: Agriculture, Flashiness, Hydrologic Metrics, Hydrologic Regime, Landcover Change, Urban
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
Effects of Intensive Agriculture on Stream Nutrient Export in East-Central Ontario, Canada
Recent agricultural land use change in east-central Ontario, including the expansion of intensive agriculture (corn and soybean crops) and tile drainage (TD) infrastructure, may alter the fluxes of both phosphorus (P) and nitrogen (N) to the Lower Great Lakes. Through intensive monitoring of several sub-watersheds that encompassed a range of row crop and TD extents, this study examined differences in stream N and P concentrations both seasonally and during variable flow conditions, to better understand land use/land cover (LULC) relationships with nutrient export. There was no clear relationship between total P (TP; concentration or export) and agricultural LULC, and instead, TP delivery was highly sensitive to flow events, and TP concentrations (especially particulate P; PP) were significantly higher during event flow compared with baseflow. In contrast, the dissolved fraction of P (total dissolved P; TDP) and dissolved nitrogen as nitrate (NO3-N) were not sensitive to flow, but were instead positively related to row crop agriculture, and associations between NO3-N concentrations/export and tile-drained row crop area were particularly strong (concentration r2 = 0.93; export r2 = 0.88). Regression relationships showed that with every 10% increase in row crop area in watersheds, NO3-N and TDP flow-weighted concentrations increased by 0.34 mg/L and 1.5 µg/L, respectively. As well, the same 10% increase in row crop agriculture translated to an increase of NO3-N export of as much as 130 kg/km2. Geospatial records of TD are incomplete in east-central Ontario, which presents challenges for evaluating the contribution of TD to nutrient export. Understanding the response of nutrients to changes in agriculture and agricultural practices is an integral part of watershed management as rapid changes in both urban and agricultural LULC continue to put pressure on water quality in the Lower Great Lakes. Author Keywords: East-Central Ontario, Nutrient Export, Row crops, Streams, Tile Drainage, Water Quality
Spatial dynamics of pollination in dioecious Shepherdia canadensis in Yukon, Canada
Sexual reproduction in flowering plants depends on investment in reproduction, the mode of pollen transfer, the availabilities of nutrient resources and potential mates, and the spatial scales over which these processes take place. In this thesis, I studied the general reproductive biology of Shepherdia canadensis (L.) Nutt. (Elaeagnaceae) and the suite of pollinators that visit the plants in Ivvavik National Park, Yukon, Canada. Across ten sites, I found that S. canadensis females were larger than males, but males produced more flowers than females at most sites. Males typically occurred at higher frequencies than females with the average male to female sex ratio being 1.19 ± 0.08 (mean ± SE, n = 10 sites). Both shrub size and flower production were significantly influenced by interactions between soil nitrogen and sex. Insect visitors to S. canadensis flowers were primarily ants and flower flies (Syrphidae), but exclusion experiments indicated that visitation by flying insects yielded greater fruit production than visitation by crawling insects. I found that fruit set was limited by the density of males within populations, but only over small distances (4-6 m). This is the first study to demonstrate that female reproductive success of a generalist-pollinated dioecious plant is limited by the density of males over small spatial scales. Author Keywords: dioecy, pollinators, sex ratio, sexual dimorphism, Shepherdia canadensis
Hydrochemistry and critical loads of acidity for lakes and ponds in the Canadian Arctic
Threats such as climate change and increased anthropogenic activity such as shipping, are expected to negatively affect the Arctic. Lack of data on Arctic systems restricts our current understanding of these sensitive systems and limits our ability to predict future impacts. Lakes and ponds are a major feature of the Arctic landscape and are recognized as ‘sentinels of change’, as they integrate processes at a landscape scale. A total of 1300 aquatic sites were assessed for common chemical and physical characteristics. Geology type was found to be the greatest driver of water chemistry for Arctic lakes and ponds. Acid-sensitivity was assessed using the Steady State Water Chemistry model and a subset of 1138 sites from across the Canadian Arctic. A large portion of sites (40.0%, n = 455) were classified as highly sensitive to acidic deposition, which resulted in a median value of 35.8 meq·m―2·yr―1 for the Canadian Arctic. Under modelled sulphur deposition scenarios for the year 2010, exceedances associated with shipping is 12.5% (n = 142) and 12.0% (n = 136) for without shipping, suggesting that impacts of shipping are relatively small. Author Keywords: Acidic deposition, Arctic lakes, Critical loads, Shipping emissions, Steady-State Water Chemistry Model, Water chemistry
SARS-CoV-2 Protein-based Detection Using Localized Surface Plasmon Resonance
During the COVID-19 pandemic, nucleic acid and antibody-based testing methods were heavily relied upon, but can be costly, time-consuming and exhibit high false -negative and -positive rates. Thus, alternative strategies are needed. Viral antigens such as the SARS-CoV-2 spike (S) glycoprotein are critical in the function of the virus and useful as diagnostic biomarkers for viral infections. For biosensing applications, aptamers are suitable high-affinity and cost-effective binding partners for their specific targets. Using localized surface plasmon resonance (LSPR), real-time, rapid acquisition of results can be achieved, essential for improving the efficacy of a sensor. Herein, LSPR aptamer sensors were fabricated for the detection of the SARS-CoV-2 protein. Data indicate that the best performing aptasensor was the streptavidin-biotin sensor, while the current gold aptasensor exhibited lower sensitivity and the fabrication of the carboxyl aptasensor was unsuccessful. The S1 aptamer selectively bound the S1 protein with high binding affinity. Excellent shelf-life stability, reusability, and high recovery in complex matrices was also maintained. Additionally, a receptor binding domain (RBD) functionalized sensor was fabricated to examine the interactions with angiotensin converting enzyme 2 (ACE2), for future assessment of inhibitors used in drug therapies. Overall, LSPR has been demonstrated as a viable tool for measuring SARS-CoV-2 related aptamer-protein and protein-protein interactions, and this strategy may be applied to other viral or non-viral antigen targets. Author Keywords: Antigen-based Detection, Coronavirus, COVID-19, Inhibition, Localized Surface Plasmon Resonance, SARS-CoV-2
Using ultra high-resolution mass spectrometry to characterize the biosorbent Euglena gracilis and its application to dysprosium biosorption
Euglena gracilis is an enigmatic and adaptable organism that has great bioremediationpotential and is best known for its metabolic flexibility. The research done in this dissertation addresses (1) how growth conditions impact cellular composition, and (2) how chemometric approaches (such as statistical design of experiments and artificial neural networks) are viable alternatives to the conventional biosorption models for process optimization. Using high-resolution mass spectrometry for biosorbent characterization is a powerful way to assess the chemical characteristics of lyophilized and fractionated cells with high precision, especially to screen for compound classes that may have potentiality for rare earth element removal. Growth conditions impacted cellular composition and separated size fractions of cells yielded different molecular/chemical properties as described by compositional abundances, thus different biosorptive potential. Untargeted analysis demonstrated that exponential dark-grown cells with glucose supplementation were abundant in polyphenolic- and carbohydrate-like compounds, molecular species highly involved in rare earth element binding. Light grown cells had more heterogeneity and the highest molecular weighted fractions from light grown cells (fraction D) had the most abundances of polyphenolic- and protein-like structures. Chemometric modeling used identified the best and worst conditions for iii dysprosium sorption and showed that pH had the most significant influence on bioremoval. Bioremoval ranged from 37% at pH 8 to 91% at pH 3 at Dy concentration ranging from 1 to 100 μg L-1. The work presented in the PhD dissertation will aid in understanding the chemical characteristics of biosorbents by using a Van krevelen analysis of elemental ratios whether algal cells are grown in different environmental growth conditions, or when algal cell are size fractionated. This is especially applied for the screening for metal binding potentiality to Dysprosium. Chemometric methods provide an alternative method for the investigating factors for bioremoval, and applications for process optimization and for real-world applications. This dissertation will aid in understanding chemical characteristics when a biosorbent is grown in a given condition and which factors are important for rare earth element (REE) bioremoval. The significance of this work aims to look for alternate ways to screen biosorbents and using a more efficient experimental design for REE bioremoval. Author Keywords: bioremoval, biosorption, chemometrics, dysprosium, euglena, mass spectrometry
Estimating mineral surface area and acid sensitivity of forest soils in Kitimat, British Columbia
In 2012, the Rio Tinto aluminum smelter in Kitimat, British Columbia increased sulphur dioxide (SO2) emissions from 27 to 42 tonnes/day. An initial study was conducted to investigate the effect of the increased sulphur (S) deposition on forest soils. A key uncertainty of the initial study was mineral surface area estimations that were applied to critical load calculations. The current study investigates the effect of organic matter (OM) removal techniques on mineral surface area and the ability to predict mineral surface area using pedotransfer functions (PTFs). Mineral surface area was measured on bulk soil samples using BET gas-adsorption. Organic matter was removed from soil samples prior to surface area measurements using a sodium hypochlorite treatment (NaOCl), loss on ignition (LOI) and no treatment. Removal techniques were found to affect surface area measurements; decreasing in the order of LOI> untreated> NaOCl. Particle-size based PTFs developed from other regions were not significantly correlated with measured surface area. A regionally-specific particle-size based function had stronger predictive value of surface area measurements (adjusted R2=0.82). The PTF that best reflected surface area measurements of bulk soil for the Kitimat area used particle-size data as well as kaolinite, the most abundant clay mineral in the region. Surface area values estimated using the particle-size PTF were applied to the PROFILE model to calculate weathering rates. Weathering rates were then input to critical load calculations using steady-state mass balance. These estimates predicted that none of the 24 measured sites are receiving SO2 deposition in exceedance of their critical load. Author Keywords: acid deposition, critical loads, mineral surface area, mineral weathering, pedotransfer functions, PROFILE
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
Longitudinal trends of benthic invertebrates in regulated rivers
The Serial Discontinuity Concept describes the downstream recovery of key biophysical variables below an impoundment. With the proliferation of hydropower dams to meet increasing societal demands, further refinement and understanding of the Serial Discontinuity Concept is needed to accurately predict downstream impacts and ensure the proper management of rivers. In this study, I examine SDC predictions on physical, chemical and biological recovery in regulated rivers providing evidence from 1) a comprehensive literature review and 2) a formal test using two regulated rivers in Northern Ontario. I specifically address how these changes are reflected in benthic invertebrate abundance, diversity, and community composition. The literature review and case studies support the predicted recovery of temperature, periphyton, substrate, and drift. In addition, the study suggests that two recovery gradients exist in regulated rivers: 1) a longer, thermal gradient taking up to hundreds of kilometres downstream; and 2) a shorter, resource subsidy gradient recovering within 1-4 km downstream of an impoundment. Total benthic invertebrate abundance varies considerably and depends on the degree of flow alteration and resource subsidies from the upstream reservoir. In contrast, benthic diversity is reduced below dams irrespective of dam location and operation with little recovery observed downstream. Contrary to SDC predictions, the longitudinal gradient in regulated rivers is not a compaction of functional changes seen over several stream orders in natural rivers but a response to dam design and reservoir conditions. Stoneflies and dragonflies are particularly sensitive to regulation while filter feeding invertebrates are enhanced. Ward and Stanford's (1983) Serial Discontinuity Concept is still a useful framework for testing hypotheses. Future studies should further expand the SDC through empirical estimation within the context of the landscape to gain a better scientific understanding of regulated river ecology. Author Keywords: benthic invertebrates, dams, longitudinal, recovery, River Continuum Concept, Serial Discontinuity Concept
How Abiotic and Biotic Factors Can Alter the Competitive Landscape in an Aggressive Species Complex (Genus
Competition is known to impact population dynamics through both indirect and direct interactions, and direct interactions can often lead to injury in one or both parties. As such, response to injury through tissue regeneration can be important for surviving post-competitive interaction. However, the impacts of outside factors like temperature and genome size (e.g. polyploidy) are not well studied, especially in syntopic systems. We addressed this knowledge gap by comparing regeneration rates of diploid Ambystoma laterale and triploid unisexual Ambystoma at two ecologically-relevant temperatures. Environmental factors appeared to have stronger effects on regeneration than ploidy level, but overall mass was impacted more strongly by ploidy level. Interestingly, there was an interaction between temperature and time within unisexuals that was absent when comparing different ploidy levels, implying temperature has a more complex effect on polyploids. This study supports the hypothesis that polyploid organisms are better equipped to respond to shifts in their environments, which can give them a competitive advantage at the northern range limit of this species complex. Author Keywords: Ambystoma, Genome dosage, Hybrid vigor, Polyploidy, Thermal optimum, Tissue regeneration


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