Graduate Theses & Dissertations

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Relationships between bird densities and distance to mines in Northern Canada
Increased mining activity in the Canadian Arctic has resulted in significant changes to the environment that may be influencing some tundra-nesting bird populations. In this thesis I examine the direct and indirect effects of mining on birds nesting in the Canadian Arctic. I first perform a literature review of the effects that mining in the Arctic has on northern environments and wildlife and outline several ways in which mines affect Arctic-breeding birds. By using the Program for Regional and International Shorebird Monitoring (PRISM) Arctic plot-based bird survey data from across the Canadian Arctic, collected from 1995 to 2018, I identify the effects of distance to mining operations on the occupancy patterns of Arctic-breeding bird species. Six species’ densities were significantly impacted by mine proximity (Canada/Cackling Goose, Long-tailed Duck, Long-tailed Jaeger, Pectoral Sandpiper, Savannah Sparrow, and Rock Ptarmigan) across five major mine sites. Each species has its own unique relationship to distance from mining activity. Author Keywords: Bird populations, Canadian Arctic, Mining, Mining activities, PRISM, Tundra-nesting birds
Forest Roost Use by Little Brown Bats (Myotis lucifugus) in Ontario
Roosts offer bats protection from predators, shelter from external environmental conditions, and a space where sociality, mating, and the rearing of young can occur. However, knowledge gaps still remain for many forest roosting species, such as the little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) surrounding what roosts are selected, and what variables are influential at differing scales of selection. As a species-at-risk, identifying and predicting roost habitat selection may aid conservation and management. I identified forest roosts in a previously unexamined area of this species’ range using radio-telemetry, and measured tree-scale characteristics of located roosts. I then used a logistic model selection process with stand-scale variables to predict roost presence across forest stands. Height of trees in a given stand was the best predictor of roost presence - which may be linked to solar exposure and other thermal benefits. I then examined roost-level variables effecting the abundance of roosting bats in an artificial roosting environment (bat boxes). I found that temperature and social effects were both significant predictors of bat abundance, with warmer minimum temperatures in the box having a positive effect. These results suggest maternal bats may select roosts with higher minimum temperatures, likely due to the energetic benefits that may be gained over the course of reproduction. Author Keywords: forest roost, habitat selection, little brown bat, Myotic lucifugus, roost choice, stand selection
Determinants of Breeding Bird Diversity in Ontario's Far North
190 species of birds are known to breed in Ontario’s far north making the region an important nursery for boreal birds. Digital point count data were collected using two different autonomous recording units (ARUs): one model with two standard microphones to detect birds and anurans, and one model with one standard microphone and one ultrasonic microphone for detecting bats. ARUs were deployed either in short or long-term plots, which were four to six days or approximately 10 weeks, respectively. I assessed differences in breeding bird richness detections between ARU and plot types. I also tested the relative impact of the habitat heterogeneity and species-energy hypotheses in relation to breeding birds and created predictive maps of breeding bird diversity for Ontario’s far north. I found no difference in species richness estimates between the two ARU models but found that long-term plots detected about 7 more bird species and 1.5 more anuran species than short-term plots. I found support for both the species-energy and habitat heterogeneity hypotheses, but support for each hypothesis varied with the resolution of the analysis. Species-energy models were better predictors of breeding bird diversity at coarser resolutions and habitat heterogeneity models were better predictors at finer resolutions. Breeding bird diversity was highest in the Ontario Shield Ecozone compared with the Hudson Bay Lowlands Ecozone, but concentrated areas of higher diversity found in the Lowlands were associated with large rivers and the associated coastlines. Author Keywords: boreal birds, breeding birds, habitat heterogeneity, Hill diversity, Ontario, species-energy hypothesis
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
Abundance and Distribution of Microplastics in Lake Scugog Catchment, Ontario
Plastic pollution is a growing concern, owing to its durability, ubiquity, and potential health impacts. The overall objective of this study was to assess the abundance and distribution of microplastics within Lake Scugog catchment, Ontario. This was fulfilled through two tasks (i) the development of a microplastic particle budget for the lake catchment, and (ii) the determination of the dry deposition of atmospheric microplastics in Port Perry, Ontario. The total input of microplastics into Lake Scugog (atmospheric deposition and stream inflow) was 2491 x106 mp/day, while the output (lake outflow and sedimentation) was 1761 x106 mp/day, suggesting that 29% of inputs were retained in the lake. The dry deposition of microplastics in Port Perry was 1257 mp/m2/day, which was high when compared to bulk deposition (37 mp/m2/day) in the same area. By quantifying the major pathways of microplastics better management techniques can be implemented. Author Keywords: Catchment, Dry Deposition, Microplastics, Ontario, Particle Budget, Plastic pollution
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
Influence of nitrogen and sulfur on cadmium tolerance in Euglena gracilis
Heavy metal pollution threatens human and ecosystem health. E. gracilis was investigated for its potential use in bioremediation due to its tolerance for heavy metals and ability to sequester them from the environment. E. gracilis can remove metals by producing metal binding compounds enriched in sulfur and nitrogen. In this thesis, E. gracilis cultures that were pretreated with elevated levels of sulfur or nitrogen had increased tolerance to CdCl2 compared to non-pretreated cultures. RNA-sequencing revealed that both pretreatments led to transcript level changes and that exposure to CdCl2 led to further transcript level changes. Gene ontology (GO) enrichment analysis reflected changes in nitrogen and sulfur metabolism as well as physiological processes related to metal binding. The data from this thesis revealed important transcription level changes that occur when E. gracilis is challenged with CdCl2 and helps us understand how organisms adapt to heavy metal pollution in the environment. Author Keywords: bioremediation, Cadmium, Euglena gracilis, GO-enrichment, metal-binding, RNA-Sequencing
Gene flow directionality and functional genetic variation among Ontario, Canada Ursus americanus populations.
Rapidly changing landscapes introduce challenges for wildlife management, particularly for large mammal populations with long generation times and extensive spatial requirements. Understanding how these populations interact with heterogeneous landscapes aids in predicting responses to further environmental change. In this thesis, I profile American black bears using microsatellite loci and pooled whole-genome sequencing. These data characterize gene flow directionality and functional genetic variation to understand patterns of dispersal and local adaptation; processes key to understanding vulnerability to environmental change. I show dispersal is positively density-dependent, male biased, and influenced by food productivity gradients suggestive of source-sink dynamics. Genomic comparison of bears inhabiting different climate and forest zones identified variation in genes related to the cellular response to starvation and cold. My thesis demonstrates source-sink dynamics and local adaption in black bears. Population management must balance dispersal to sustain declining populations against the risk of maladaptation under future scenarios of environmental change. Author Keywords: American black bear, Dispersal, Functional Genetic Variation, Gene Flow Directionality, Genomics, Local Adaptation
Exploring the Role of Natural Antisense Transcripts in the Stress Response of Ustilago maydis
Fungal pathogens adapt to environmental changes faster than their hosts, due in part to their adaptive mechanisms exhibited in response to stress. Ustilago maydis was used to investigate potential natural antisense transcript (NAT) RNA-mediated mechanisms that enhance fungal adaptation to stress. Of the 349 NATs conserved amongst U. maydis and two related smut fungi, five NATs were identified as having altered transcript levels in response to multiple stress conditions. Subsequently, antisense transcript expression vectors were created for select NATs and transformed into U. maydis haploid cells. When exposed to stress conditions, two antisense expressing mutant strains exhibited alterations in growth. RT-qPCR analysis of mRNA complementary to expressed NATs revealed no significant change in mRNA levels, which suggests NAT expression may influence stress response through dsRNA formation or other RNA mediated mechanisms. These results establish a basis for further investigations into the connection between NATs and the stress response of fungi. Author Keywords: natural antisense transcripts, non-coding RNAs, stress response, Ustilago maydis
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
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

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Format: 2024/02/21