Graduate Theses & Dissertations


Selection on functional genes across a flying squirrel (genus Glaucomys) hybrid zone
While hybridization between distinct taxa can have undesirable implications, it can also result in increased genetic variability and potentially, the exchange of adaptive genes or traits. Adaptive variation acquired through introgressive hybridization may be particularly advantageous for species facing rapid environmental change. I investigated a novel, climate change-induced hybrid zone between two flying squirrel species: the southern (Glaucomys volans) and northern (G. sabrinus) flying squirrel. I was interested in the occurrence of hybridization and introgression, the type of selective pressures maintaining the hybrid zone and the potential for adaptive introgression. I found relatively low hybridization and introgression frequencies (1.7% and 2.9% of the population, respectively) and no evidence of selection on hybrids or backcrosses in particular environments. I conclude that the data are more consistent with a hybrid zone maintained by endogenous (environment-independent) selection. I tested for adaptive introgression using two functional genes: IGF-1 and CLOCK. I documented intermediate functional allele frequencies in backcrosses compared to parental populations, suggesting the alleles do not confer fitness advantages in backcrosses. Despite lack of evidence for current adaptive introgression, genetic admixture between G. volans and G. sabrinus may provide adaptive potential should these species face more rapid or drastic environmental change in the future. Author Keywords: adaptive introgression, flying squirrel, Glaucomys sabrinus, Glaucomys volans, hybridization, introgression
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
Linking large scale monitoring and spatially explicit capture–recapture models to identify factors shaping large carnivore densities
Understanding the spatial ecology of large carnivores in increasingly complex, multi-use landscapes is critical for effective conservation and management. Complementary to this need are robust monitoring and statistical techniques to understand the effect of bottom-up and top-down processes on wildlife population densities. However, for wide-ranging species, such knowledge is often hindered by difficulties in conducting studies over large spatial extents to fully capture the range of processes influencing populations. This thesis addresses research gaps in the above themes in the context of the American black bear (Ursus americanus) in the multi-use landscape of Ontario, Canada. First, I assess the performance of a widely adopted statistical modelling technique – spatially explicit capture-recapture (SECR) – for estimating densities of large carnivores (Chapter 2). Using simulations, I demonstrate that while SECR models are generally robust to unmodeled spatial and sex-based variation in populations, ignoring high levels of this variation can lead to bias with consequences for management and conservation. In Chapter 3, I investigate fine-scale drivers of black bear population density within study areas and forest regions by applying SECR models to a large-scale, multi-year black bear spatial capture-recapture dataset. To identify more generalizable patterns, in Chapter 4 I then assess patterns of black bear density across the province and within forest regions as a function of coarse landscape-level factors using the same datasets and assess the trade-offs between three different modeling techniques. Environmental variables were important drivers of black bear density across the province, while anthropogenic variables were more important in structuring finer-scale space use within study areas. Within forest regions these variables acted as both bottom-up and top-down processes that were consistent with ecological influences on black bear foods and intensity of human influences on the species’ avoidance of developed habitats. Collectively, this thesis highlights the opportunities and challenges of working across multiple scales and over expansive landscapes within a SECR framework. Specifically, the multi-scale approach of this thesis allows for robust inference of the mechanisms structuring fine and broad scale patterns in black bear densities and offers insight to the relative influence of top-down and bottom-up forces in driving these patterns. Taken together, this thesis provides an approach for monitoring large carnivore population dynamics that can be leveraged for the species conservation and management in increasingly human-modified landscapes. Author Keywords: animal abundance, black bear, capture-recapture, density estimation, statistical ecology, wildlife management
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
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
Human Activity and Habitat Characteristics Influence Shorebird Habitat Use and Behaviour at a Vancouver Island Migratory Stopover Site
Pacific Rim National Park Reserve's 16 km of coastal beaches attract many thousands of people and shorebirds every year. To identify locations where shorebirds concentrate and determine the impact of human activity and habitat characteristics on shorebirds, I conducted shorebird and visitor surveys at 20 beach sectors during fall migration in 2011 to 2013 and spring migration in 2012 and 2013. The probability of shorebird presence decreased with increasing number of people at a beach sector. The time that shorebirds spent at a sector increased with increasing sector width. Close proximity to people increased the proportion of time shorebirds spent moving while shorebirds spent more time moving and less time foraging on wider beaches than on narrower ones. My findings suggest that placing restrictions on beach access and fast moving activities (e.g., running) may be necessary to reduce shorebird disturbance at Pacific Rim and similar stopover areas. Author Keywords: habitat use, human disturbance, predation risk, prey availability, shorebird, stopover
Enduring Attack
Numerous prey taxa employ defensive postures for protection against attack by predators. Defensive postures mitigate predation risk at various stages of the predator-prey sequence, including through crypsis, mimicry, thanatosis, aposematism, and deflection. In terrestrial salamanders, defensive postures may be aposematic, or deflect attacks away from vital body parts and towards the tail, however the extent to which these strategies act exclusively or synergistically remains poorly understood. Herein I demonstrate a novel approach to study the function of salamander defensive postures through experimental manipulation of predator response to antipredator behaviour in a natural field setting. I deployed 1600 clay salamander prey on Pelee Island, Ontario, manipulating prey size (small, large) and posture (resting, defensive) and documented attack rates across three predator types to further assess the effect of prey body size and predator type on antipredator efficacy. My research suggests that irrespective of prey body size, defensive posture does not function through aposematism, but rather acts to deflect predator attacks to the tail, which is commonly noxious and expendable in terrestrial salamanders. An intriguing possibility is that this behaviour facilitates taste-rejection by predators. Overall, my research should further contribute to our understanding of the importance and potential evolutionary significance of defensive posturing in Ambystoma salamanders, and more broadly, on the determinants of prey vulnerability to predation. I also briefly discuss the implications of my results to the conservation of Ambystoma populations on Pelee Island. Author Keywords: Anti-predator behaviour, Aposematism, Attack deflection, Predator avoidance, Small-mouthed salamander, Taste-rejection
Tests of the Invasional Meltdown Hypothesis in invasive herbaceous plant species in southern Ontario
According to the Invasional Meltdown Hypothesis (IMH), invasive species may interact in their introduced range and facilitate future invasions. This study investigated the possibility that Alliaria petiolata, an invasive allelopathic herbaceous plant in Ontario, is facilitating invasions by additional alien species. Two allelopathic focal species were chosen for this study: the native Solidago canadensis and the invasive A. petiolata. Field surveys in southern Ontario that quantified plant biodiversity in plots that included one or both focal species revealed no support for the IMH, although fewer species co-existed with A. petiolata than with S. canadensis. A year-long recruitment experiment in Peterborough, Ontario, also produced results inconsistent with the IMH, although did provide some evidence that A. petiolata limited recruitment of other species. These results collectively show negative impacts on regional biodiversity by A. petiolata, even in the absence of an invasional meltdown. Author Keywords: allelopathy, Alliaria petiolata, co-occurrence surveys, invasional meltdown hypothesis, invasive species, Solidago canadensis
Reintroducing species in the 21st century
Climate change has had numerous impacts on species' distributions by shifting suitable habitat to higher latitudes and elevations. These shifts pose new challenges to biodiversity management, in particular translocations, where suitable habitat is considered crucial for the reintroduced population. De-extinction is a new conservation tool, similar to reintroduction, except that the proposed candidates are extinct. However, this novel tool will be faced with similar problems from anthropogenic change, as are typical translocation efforts. Using ecological niche modelling, I measured suitability changes at translocation sites for several Holarctic mammal species under various climate change scenarios, and compared changes between release sites located in the southern, core, and northern regions of the species' historic range. I demonstrate that past translocations located in the southern regions of species' ranges will have a substantial decline in environmental suitability, whereas core and northern sites exhibited the reverse trend. In addition, lower percentages (< 50% in certain scenarios) of southern sites fall above the minimal suitability threshold for current and long-term species occurrence. Furthermore, I demonstrate that three popular de-extinction candidate species have experienced changes in habitat suitability in their historic range, owing to climate change and increased land conversion. Additionally, substantial increase in potentially suitable space is projected beyond the range-limits for all three species, which could raise concerns for native wildlife if de-extinct species are successfully established. In general, this thesis provides insight for how the selection of translocation sites can be more adaptable to continued climate change, and marks perhaps the first rigorous attempt to assess the potential for species de-extinction given contemporary and predicted changes in land use and climate. Author Keywords: climate change, de-extinction, ecological niche models, MaxEnt, reintroduction, translocation
Conservation genetics of Redside Dace (Clinostomus elongatus)
Recent range reductions of endangered species have been linked to urban development, increased agricultural activities, and introduction of non-native species. I used Redside Dace (Clinostomus elongatus) as a focal species to examine the utility of novel monitoring approaches, and to understand historical and contemporary processes that have influenced their present distribution. I tested the efficacy of environmental DNA (eDNA) to detect Redside Dace, and showed that eDNA was more sensitive for detecting species presence than traditional electrofishing. Parameters such as season, number of replicates, and spatial versus temporal sampling need to be accounted for when designing an eDNA monitoring program, as they influence detection effectiveness and power. I also assessed the species’ phylogeographic structure using both mitochondrial and microsatellite DNA analysis. The data from the microsatellite markers indicate that Redside Dace populations are genetically structured, with the exception of several populations from the Allegheny River basin. Combined sequence data from three mitochondrial genes (cytochrome b, ATPase 6 and ATPase 8) indicated that Redside Dace persisted within three Mississippian refugia during the last glaciation. Secondary contact between two lineages was indicated by both mitochondrial and microsatellite data. The combined results from the eDNA and conservation genetics studies can be used to inform Redside Dace recovery efforts, and provide a template for similar efforts for other aquatic endangered species. Author Keywords: eDNA, endangered, genetics, phylogeography
Influence of Habitat on Woodland Caribou Site Fidelity
Site fidelity is the behaviour of individuals to return to the same location; for female woodland caribou it may reflect reproductive success and depend on habitat quality. I investigated the influence of landscape and disturbance conditions on fidelity among three populations in Manitoba and Ontario, Canada. Habitat classifications were based on Forest Resource Inventory (FRI) and Landsat TM landcover maps. A total of 261 sites were ground-truthed to determine mapping accuracy. An amalgamated map incorporating FRI and Landsat TM data was estimated from field measurements to have an overall accuracy of 69.0%. Site fidelity was expressed as the distance between consecutive-year locations of individuals and was investigated during five week-long periods representing calving, early and late post-calving, winter, and breeding. Site fidelity was strongest during the post-calving seasons and weakest during the winter. Habitat had little influence on site fidelity in all seasons, excepting winter, even under highly disturbed conditions, suggesting maintenance of fidelity may be a maladaptive trait. Individual variation proved a strong predictor and cursory mapping indicated that caribou may return to sites visited two or more years earlier. Conservation management and policy should recognize that site fidelity may represent an ecological trap. Author Keywords: calving, disturbance, habitat, movement, Rangifer tarandus caribou, site fidelity
Assessing habitat suitability and connectivity for an endangered salamander complex
Habitat loss and fragmentation have significantly contributed to amphibian population declines, globally. Evaluating the state of remaining habitat patches can prove to be beneficial in identifying areas to prioritize in conservation efforts. Pelee Island, Ontario is home to a complex of salamanders including small-mouthed salamanders (Ambystoma texanum), blue-spotted salamanders (A. laterale) and unisexual Ambystoma (small-mouthed salamander dependent population). These populations have declined from intense landscape changes since the late 1800s, particularly from the historical drainage of wetlands. In this thesis, I evaluated the suitability and connectivity of habitat patches occupied by these salamanders to assess the size of, and dispersal capabilities between, remaining habitat patches. I found that there was a low amount of suitable terrestrial habitat available for this complex of salamanders, and existing habitat patches were small and isolated. Forested areas and non-breeding wetlands were considered to be suitable habitat when adjacent to existing breeding locations, suggesting that these habitats should be a focus for conservation efforts. Notably, intervention may be necessary to maintain this amphibian complex as many assemblages are isolated from one another and potential corridors currently consist of primarily unsuitable habitat. Given that much of the salamander complex is reliant on one species for reproduction, the long-term viability of this population of Ambystoma salamanders may rely on the enhancement of suitable habitat near current breeding sites by conservation organizations and local stakeholders. Ultimately, the approach used in this thesis emphasizes the value of evaluating habitat within a fragmented landscape to focus conservation efforts on imperilled species. Author Keywords: amphibians, connectivity, habitat suitability, landscape fragmentation, landscape resistance, unisexual


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