Graduate Theses & Dissertations


Characterizing the demographic history and prion protein gene variation to infer susceptibility to chronic wasting disease in a naïve population of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus)
Assessments of the adaptive potential of natural populations are essential for understanding and predicting responses to environmental stressors like climate change and infectious disease. The range of stressors species face in a human-dominated landscape, often have contrasting effects. White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus, deer) are expanding in the northern part of their range following decreasing winter severity and increasing forage availability, caused by climate change. Chronic wasting disease (CWD), a prion disease affecting cervids, is likewise expanding and represents a major threat to deer and other cervids We obtained tissue samples from free-ranging deer across their native range in Ontario, Canada which has yet to detect CWD in wild populations of cervids. High throughput sequencing was used to assess neutral genomic variation and variation in the gene responsible for the protein that misfolds into prions when deer contract CWD, known as the PRNP gene. Neutral variation revealed a high number of rare alleles and no population structure, consistent with an expanding population of deer. Functional genetic variation revealed that the frequencies of variants associated to CWD susceptibility and disease progression were evenly distributed across the landscape and the frequencies were consistent with deer populations not infected with CWD. These findings suggest that an observable shift in PRNP allele frequencies likely coincides with the start of a novel CWD epidemic. Sustained surveillance of genomic and genetic variation can be a useful tool for CWD-free regions where deer are managed for ecological and economic benefits. Author Keywords: Canadian wildlife, population genetics, prion, PRNP, RADseq, ungulate
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
Population Genetics and Gut Microbiome Composition Reveal Subdivisions and Space Use in a Generalist and Specialist Ungulate
Natural populations are often difficult and costly to study, due to the plethora of confounding processes and variables present. This is of particular importance when dealing with managed species. Ungulates, for example, act as both consumers and prey sources; they also provide economic benefit through harvest, and as such, are of high ecological and economic value. I addressed conservation and management concerns by quantifying subdivision in wild populations and combined movement with non-invasive sampling to provide novel insight on the physiological drivers of space use in multiple species. This thesis explored biological patterns in ungulates using two distinct approaches: the first used molecular genetics to quantify gene flow, while the second examined the relationship between movement and the gut microbiome using high-throughput sequencing and GPS tracking. The goal of the first chapter was to quantify gene flow and assess the population structure of mountain goats (Oreamnos americanus) in northern British Columbia (BC) to inform management. I used microsatellites to generate genotype data and used a landscape genetics framework to evaluate the possible drivers behind genetic differentiation. The same analyses were performed at both a broad and fine scale, assessing genetic differentiation between populations in all of northern BC and in a case management study area northeast of Smithers BC. The results indicated panmixia among mountain goats regardless of scale, suggesting distance and landscape resistance were minimally inhibiting gene flow. Therefore, management at local scales can continue with little need for genetically informed boundaries, but regulations should be tailored to specific regions incorporating data on local access and harvest pressure. My second chapter aimed to determine the extent to which the gut microbiome drives space-use patterns in a specialist (mountain goat) and generalist (white-tailed deer, Odocoileus virginianus) ungulate. Using fecal samples, we generated genomic data using 16S rRNA high-throughput sequencing to evaluate gut diversity and gut microbiome characteristics. Additionally, individuals were fitted with GPS collars so that we could gain insight into movement patterns. Gut microbiome metrics were stronger predictors of space use and movement patterns with respect to home range size, whereas they were weaker predictors of habitat use. Notably, factors of both the gut microbiome and age of a given species were correlated with changes in space use and habitat use. Ultimately, this research linked high-throughput sequencing and GPS data to better understand ecological processes in wild ungulates. Author Keywords: gene flow, genomics, gut microbiome, home range, population genetic structure, ungulates
evolutionary ecology of Alaska's mountain goats with management implications
The integration of genetic and environmental information can help wildlife managers better understand the factors affecting a species’ population structure and their response to disturbance. This thesis uses genetic techniques to assess the broad and fine scale population structure of mountain goats in Alaska. The first chapter aims to determine the number of genetically distinct subpopulations and model the demographic history of mountain goats in Alaska. The second chapter investigates the population structure and demographic history of mountain goats in Glacier Bay National Park and examines the impact that climate change will have on these mountain goats. My results indicate that Alaska has eight subpopulations which diverged during the Wisconsin glaciation. In Glacier Bay, population structure is reflective of the landscape during colonization, and mountain goat population density and movement corridors are likely to decline due to future climate change. Author Keywords: Alaska, biogeography, gene flow, landscape genetics, mountain goat, population genetic structure
Demographic history and conservation genomics of caribou (Rangifer tarandus) in Québec
Genetic variation is the raw material and basis for evolutionary changes in nature. The loss of genetic diversity is a challenge many species are facing, with genomics being a potential tool to inform and prioritize decision making. Whole genome analysis can be an asset to conservation biology and the management of species through the generation of more precise and novel metrics. This thesis uses whole genome re-sequencing to characterize the demographic history and quantify genomic metrics relevant to conservation of caribou (Rangifer tarandus) in Québec, Canada. We calculated the ancestral and contemporary patterns of genomic diversity of five representative caribou populations and applied a comparative population genomics framework to assess the interplay between demographic events and genomic diversity. When compared to the census size, NC, the endangered Gaspésie Mountain caribou population had the highest ancestral Ne:NC ratio which is consistent with recent work suggesting high ancestral Ne:NC is of conservation concern. These ratios were highly correlated with genomic signatures (i.e. Tajima’s D) of recent population declines and explicit demographic model parameters. Values of contemporary Ne, estimated from linkage-disequilibrium showed Gaspêsie having among the highest contemporary Ne:NC ratio. Importantly, classic conservation genetics theory would predict this population to be of less concern based off this metric alone. Inbreeding measures suggested nuanced patterns of inbreeding and correlated to the demographic models. This study suggests that while the Québec populations are all under decline, they harbour enough ancestral genetic variation to replenish any lost diversity, if conservation decisions are made in favour of these populations, specifically supporting NC. Author Keywords:
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
Expression of Giardia intestinalis flavoenzyme GiOR-1 and characterization of its electron transfer properties
Giardia intestinalis possesses four isotypes of cytochrome b5 (gCYTB-I-IV) that differ from their mammalian counterparts, suggesting different functions in this protozoan parasite. Although the recently discovered Giardia flavoenzyme, GiOR-1, reduces these cytochromes, its properties have not been thoroughly studied, owing to the difficulty in its expression. Here I describe successful conditions for expression of GiOR-1 using autoinduction. GiOR-1 is obtained with flavins bound as indicated by its UV-visible spectrum. Its ability to catalyze electron transfer from donors (NADH, NADPH) to acceptors (oxygen, ferricyanide, cytochrome c, gCYTB5-III) were studied in spectrophotometric rate assays. NADPH is the preferred electron donor, while cytochromes are the preferred electron acceptors. Interestingly, the His-tag used to purify gCYTB5-III decreases its reaction rate with GiOR-1, as an untagged version has slightly faster rates. These findings establish the appropriate conditions for further studies on GiOR-1, including the identification of endogenous electron acceptors. Author Keywords: Autoinduction, Cytochrome b5, Cytochrome P450 oxidoreductase, Giardia intestinalis, GiOR-1, Polyhistidine tag
Genetic Networks to Investigate Structure and Connectivity of Caribou at Multiple Spatial and Temporal Scales
Understanding genetic structure, connectivity, and movement of a species iscritical to management and conservation. Genetic network approaches allow the analysis of genetic information with flexibility and few prior assumptions. In chapter one, I tested the ability of individual-based genetic networks to detect fine-scale structure and connectivity in relation to sampling efforts. My findings revealed individual-based genetic networks can detect fine-scale genetic structure of caribou when using 15 highly variable microsatellite loci. Sampling levels less than 50% of the estimated population size resulted in highly disconnected networks which did not allow for accurate structure analysis; however community detection algorithms were robust in grouping closely related individuals despite low sampling. In chapter two, I used individual-based and population-based genetic networks to investigate structure, connectivity, and movement of caribou across a large study area in Western Canada. A community detection algorithm partitioned the population-based genetic network at multiple spatial scales which uncovered patterns of hierarchical genetic structure and highlighted patterns of gene flow. The hierarchical population structure results aligned with the known distribution of different caribou Designatable Units (DUs) and additional structure was found within each DU. Furthermore, individual-based networks that were constructed with a subset of samples from the Mackenzie Mountains region of the Northwest Territories revealed patterns of long-distance movement and high connectivity across the region. Author Keywords: Biological Conservation, Caribou, Community Detection, Connectivity, Genetic Networks, Structure
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
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


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