Graduate Theses & Dissertations


Effects of Local, Landscape, and Temporal Variables on Bobolink Nest Survival in Southern Ontario
Populations of grassland birds, including the Bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus), are experiencing steep declines due to losses of breeding habitat, land use changes, and agricultural practices. Understanding the variables affecting reproductive success can aid conservation of grassland species. I investigated 1) whether artificial nest experiments accurately estimate the impacts of cattle on the daily survival rate of Bobolink nests and 2) which local, landscape, and temporal variables affect daily survival rate of Bobolink nests in Southern Ontario. I replicated an artificial nest experiment performed in 2012 and 2015 to compare the daily survival rate of artificial and natural nests at multiple stocking rates (number of cattle × days × ha-1). I also monitored Bobolink nests and modeled daily survival rate using local variables (e.g., stocking rate, field use, patch area), landscape variables (e.g., percent forest within 2, 5, and 10 km), and temporal variables (e.g., year, date of season). Results indicate that artificial nest experiments using clay shooting targets overestimated the impacts of stocking rate on the daily survival rate of Bobolink nests. With natural nests, region (confounded by year and field use), stocking rate, and date of season were the strongest predictors of daily survival rate; with stocking rate and date of season both having a negative effect. Management should focus on conserving pastures with low stocking rates (< 40 cattle × days × ha-1), late-cut hayfields, fallow fields, and other grasslands to protect breeding grounds for the Bobolink and other declining grassland bird species. Author Keywords: Bobolink, Daily survival rate, landscape variables, local variables, Nest survival, temporal variables
Indirect Effects of Hyperabundant Geese on Sympatric-Nesting Shorebirds
Rising populations of Lesser Snow and Ross’ geese (hereafter collectively referred to as light geese) breeding in the North American Arctic have caused significant environmental change that may be affecting some populations of nesting shorebirds, which in contrast to geese, have declined dramatically. In this thesis I examine the indirect effects of light geese on sympatric-nesting shorebirds. I first conduct a literature review of the effects of light geese on northern wildlife and outline multiple mechanisms in which geese may affect shorebirds in particular. Using bird survey data collected in plots situated across the Canadian Arctic from 1999 to 2016, I then identify spatial effects of light goose colonies on shorebird, passerine, and generalist predator densities. The densities of cover- nesting shorebirds and passerines were depressed near goose colonies while the densities of open-nesting shorebirds were less so. Next, using habitat data collected at random sites and shorebird nest sites situated at increasing distances from a goose colony on Southampton Island, Nunavut, I outline the effects of geese on shorebird nest site selection. I found that the availability of sedge meadow and amount of lateral concealment increased as a function of distance from goose colony; cover-nesting shorebirds selecting nest sites with less concealment and sedge meadow near the colony. Then, to characterize spatial effects of light geese on predators and risk of predation I used time-lapse cameras and artificial shorebird nests placed at increasing distances from the goose colony. Activity indices of gulls, jaegers, and foxes were all negatively correlated with distance from the goose colony while the reverse was true for artificial nest survival probability. Finally, I relate changes in ground cover to goose use and link these changes to variation in invertebrate communities. I then use DNA metabarcoding to characterize the diet of six shorebird species across study sites and identify inter-site variation in the biomass of dominant shorebird prey items. Prey item biomass was elevated at the two study sites near the goose colony potentially indicating an enhancing effect of goose fecal deposition. Overall, I show that light geese interact with shorebirds in multiple ways and negatively affect their habitat availability, nest site selection, and risk of predation, effects that likely outweigh the positive effects of enhanced prey availability. Author Keywords:
Fingerprinting of dissolved organic matter and copper ligands in the Canadian Arctic and North Pacific Ocean
Dissolved organic matter (DOM) in oceans provides nutrients and ultraviolet radiation protection to microbes. Some DOM compounds can chelate with metals, including copper, controlling their transport and bioavailability in marine systems. As copper functions as both a nutrient and toxicant, studies into the chemical structures of Cu-ligands is important, however currently limited. In this thesis, the chemical composition of total and Cu-binding DOM is investigated using Fourier transform ion cyclotron resonance mass spectrometry (FT-ICR MS) in the Canadian Arctic and North Pacific. Chapter 2 reveals chemical differences in DOM composition between the southern and northern Canada Basin, revealing the influence of terrestrial and biological sources. Chapter 3 shows the uniqueness of Cu-binding ligands found in the Canadian Arctic and North Pacific Ocean. Studying the composition of DOM gives insight into the chemical diversity of marine DOM, helping to predict the effects of a changing climate on marine ecosystems. Author Keywords: biological, dissolved organic matter, fluorescence, immobilized metal-ion affinity chromatography, mass spectrometry, terrestrial
Expression optimization and NMR spectroscopy of Giardia intestinalis cytochrome b5 isotype III
The parasitic protist Giardia intestinalis does not synthesize heme and lacks many common eukaryotic heme proteins, yet it expresses four cytochrome b5 (gCYTB5) isotypes of unknown function. These have low reduction potentials and distinct subcellular locations that are consistent with structural features and biological functions that differ from their mammalian counterparts. Isotype III (gCYTB5-III) is particularly fascinating for its unusual location in the nuclei of Giardia. This thesis reports the optimization of recombinant gCYTB5-III overexpression for structural studies by NMR spectroscopy. Vital optimization factors for isotope labelling were first identified, finding that auto-induction promotes the optimization of many other conditions, such as colony selection, starter cultures, media components, temperature, pH and aeration. Optimized conditions were then applied to the expression and NMR spectroscopy of isotope-labelled gCYTB5-III and bovine cytochrome b5 as a control. These results can be extended to other heme proteins and will expand our biochemical knowledge of Giardia. Author Keywords: Auto-induction, Cytochrome b5, Giardia intestinalis, Isotope Labelling, Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy, Recombinant Protein
Detectability and its role in understanding upland sandpiper (Bartramia longicauda) occurence in the fragmented landscape of southern Ontario
Upland Sandpipers (Bartramia longicauda), like many grassland birds, are undergoing population decline in parts of their range. Habitat fragmentation and change have been hypothesized as potential causes of decline. I used citizen-science occurrence data from Wildlife Preservation Canada’s Adopt-A-Shrike Loggerhead Shrike (Lanius ludovicianus) program in conjunction with validation surveys, using similar point-count methods, to examine detectability and determine if landscape level habitat features could predict occupancy of Upland Sandpipers in Southern Ontario. In a single season detectability study, I used Wildlife Preservation Canada’s survey protocol to determine detectability in sites that were known to be occupied. Detectability was low, with six surveys necessary to ensure detection using a duration of at least 18 minutes early in the breeding season. The proportion of open habitat did not affect detection on the landscape. Using a larger spatial and temporal scale, with five years of citizen-science data, I showed that Annual Crop Inventory data could not effectively predict Upland Sandpiper occupancy. Model uncertainty could be attributed to survey protocol and life history traits of the Upland Sandpiper, suggesting that appropriate survey methods be derived a priori for maximizing the potential of citizen-science data for robust analyses. Author Keywords: Bartramia longicauda, citizen-science, detection, landscape, occupancy, Ontario
Making eDNA count
Environmental DNA (eDNA) is rapidly becoming an established method for the detection of species in aquatic systems and has been suggested as a promising tool to estimate species abundance. However, the strength of the relationship between eDNA concentrations and taxon abundance (density/biomass) can vary widely between species. I investigated the relationship between eDNA concentration and species abundance using two common and closely-related amphibians in eastern North America, the wood frog (Rana sylvatica) and northern leopard frog (Rana pipiens). I manipulated tadpole density in 80 L mesocosms and documented the relationship between tadpole density, biomass, and eDNA concentration. Species were comparable in biomass but differed in the amount of detectible genetic material produced; density and biomass were the superior abundance metric correlated with eDNA concentration for wood frogs and leopard frogs, respectively. However, increases in eDNA concentration reflected increasing tadpole biomass, therefore biomass is likely a better metric of abundance than density. Overall my findings support that eDNA concentration can be used as an index of species abundance, but that species-specific calibration may be needed before eDNA concentration can be effectively translated to an abundance metric. Future research should refine our understanding of how biotic and abiotic factors influence eDNA production, degradation, and recovery across species, before the method can receive widespread use as a monitoring tool in natural settings. Author Keywords: abundance estimates, environmental DNA, mesocosm, Rana pipiens, Rana sylvatica
Observation-based assessment of atmospheric sulphur surrounding a major aluminum smelter in British Columbia, Canada
Recent developments at an aluminum (Al) smelter in Kitimat, BC resulted in a permitted increase of 27 to 42 tonnes of sulphur dioxide (SO2) emissions per day. Gaseous SO2 is a pollutant known to contribute to acidic deposition through processes of wet and dry deposition and can additionally react in-atmosphere to form particulate sulphate (pSO42-). Between June 2017 to October 2018, an extensive network consisting of ion exchange resin (IER) column, passive-diffusive, and active filter-pack samplers was established to provide an estimate of total annual S deposition and pSO42- variation throughout the Kitimat Valley. Filter-pack sampling determined the relative concentration of pSO42- increased downwind of the smelter. Comparison of observation-based and modelled total annual deposition suggested CALPUFF was accurate in representing the spatial viability of S deposition (R2 = > 0.85). However, the model appeared to overpredict near-field deposition suggesting the potential of underestimation further downwind of the smelter. Author Keywords: aluminum smelter, atmospheric deposition, filter-pack sampler, ion-exchange column sampler, pSO42-, SO2
Seasonal habitat use and movement of native brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) in urban headwater streams
Coldwater streams are becoming increasingly impacted due to urbanization. Using environmental surveys, mark-recapture and telemetry, I assessed factors influencing seasonal brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) habitat use and movement in urban headwater streams in central Ontario between 2017-18. Generalized additive models were used to assess which habitat variables best explained seasonal yearling and older brook trout abundance, while generalized least squares models were used to assess overall trends in radio-tagged brook trout movement. My research demonstrated dynamic patterns in habitat use and movement by urban stream-dwelling brook trout. Yearlings were primarily influenced by water quality (stream temperature, conductivity), while older brook trout were most strongly influenced by stream morphology (depth, undercut bank). Movement occurred disproportionately around the spawning season and was more limited in the smaller, more altered stream. These findings may be used to inform fisheries managers on crucial timing and location of brook trout habitat refugia within urbanized environments. Author Keywords: Brook trout, coldwater stream, groundwater, habitat use, radiotelemetry, urbanization
Effects of Invasive Wetland Macrophytes on Habitat Selection by Turtles
Invasive species that alter habitats can have significant impacts on wildlife. The invasive graminoids Phragmites australis (Cav.) Trin. ex Steud, hereafter Phragmites, and Typha × glauca Godr. are rapidly spreading into North American wetlands, replacing native vegetation. Invasive Phragmites is considered a potential threat to several species-at-risk (SAR), including some turtle species. My study wetland contained large stands of Phragmites, as well as Typha spp. (including invasive T. × glauca) that have similar structural traits to Phragmites. To explore the hypothesis that Phragmites and Typha spp. do not provide suitable habitat for turtles, I tested the prediction that turtles avoid Phragmites- and Typha-dominated habitats. I used VHF-GPS transmitters to follow Blanding’s turtles (Emydoidea blandingii, n = 14) and spotted turtles (Clemmys guttata, n = 12). I found that both turtle species did not avoid Phragmites- or Typha-dominated habitats when choosing a home range, or while moving within their home range. I also tested whether the microhabitat selection of Blanding’s turtles and spotted turtles is affected by shoot density of Phragmites, Typha spp., or both. I compared shoot densities of Phragmites and Typha spp. in 4 m2 plots, from locations used by tracked turtles with paired, random locations in these turtles’ home ranges. For both turtle species, the densities of Phragmites and Typha shoots were comparable between used and random locations within the home ranges (generalized linear mixed model; p > 0.05). The use of Phragmites- and Typha-dominated habitats by Blanding’s turtles and spotted turtles suggests that these habitats do not automatically constitute “unsuitable habitats” for turtles. Phragmites and Typha spp. (especially T. × glauca) can replace preferred habitats of some turtle species, and the control of these invasive macrophytes can help to preserve habitat heterogeneity. However, the presence of SAR turtles in Phragmites and Typha spp. stands should inform risk-assessments for invasive plant species control methods that include mechanical rolling of stands, where heavy machinery might encounter turtles. Author Keywords: Blanding’s turtles, compositional analysis, habitat selection, Phragmites australis, spotted turtles, Typha x glauca
Genomic architecture of artificially and sexually selected traits in white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus)
Understanding the complex genomic architecture underlying quantitative traits can provide valuable insight for the conservation and management of wildlife. Despite improvements in sequencing technologies, few empirical studies have identified quantitative trait loci (QTL) via whole genome sequencing in free-ranging mammal populations outside a few well-studied systems. This thesis uses high-depth whole genome pooled re-sequencing to characterize the molecular basis of the natural variation observed in two sexually selected, heritable traits in white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus, WTD). Specifically, sampled individuals representing the phenotypic extremes from an island population of WTD for antler and body size traits. Our results showed a largely homogenous genome between extreme phenotypes for each trait, with many highly differentiated regions throughout the genome, indicative of a quantitative model for polygenic traits. We identified and validated several potential QTL of putatively small-to-moderate effect for each trait, and discuss the potential for real-world application to conservation and management. Author Keywords: evolution, extreme phenotypes, genetics, genomics, quantitative traits, sexual selection
Soil Geochemistry and Normative Mineralogy across Canada
Soils play a crucial role in ecosystem functioning, for example, soil minerals provide important provisioning and regulate ecosystem services. This study used major soil oxides from the North American Soil Geochemical Landscapes Project (n=560) to assess elemental associations and infer soil minerals through exploratory data analysis and to determined quantitative soil mineralogy using a normative method, Analysis to Mineralogy (n=1170). Results showed elemental variability of oxides across the provinces of Canada and strong correlations occurred between elements indicative of soil mineral composition (e.g., Silicon and Aluminium). Principal component analysis inferred soil minerals from soil oxides trends on biplots and classified minerals, generally, as carbonates, silicates, and weathered secondary oxides. Spatial variability in minerals (quartz, plagioclase, potassium feldspar, chlorite, and muscovite) was related to the underlying bedrock geology. The use of Analysis to Mineralogy led to a reliable method of quantifying soil minerals at a large scale. Author Keywords: Analysis to Mineralogy, Exploratory data analysis, Normative procedures, North American Soil Geochemical Landscapes Project, Soil geochemistry, Soil mineralogy
Fish and invertebrate use of invasive Phragmites in a Great Lakes freshwater delta
Invasive Phragmites australis ssp. australis (herein “Phragmites”) has established and rapidly spread throughout many coastal areas of the Great Lakes. Known to displace native vegetation communities as it forms large, monotypic stands, Phragmites has a bad reputation when it comes to losses of biodiversity and habitat provision for wildlife. However, the extent to which Phragmites provides habitat for fish and invertebrates in coastal freshwater wetlands remains relatively unquantified. Thus, this study assessed whether fish assemblages and invertebrate communities in stands of Phragmites differ from those in stands of two native emergent vegetation communities, Typha spp. and Schoenoplectus spp. The findings showed significant differences in habitat variables among the vegetation communities in terms of water depth, macrophyte species richness, stem density and water quality. While abundance of the functional feeding group filterer-collectors was found to be significantly less in stands of Phragmites when compared to Schoenoplectus, no difference was observed in invertebrate taxa richness among vegetation communities. Lastly, no difference in fish assemblage or invertebrate community was detected when using multivariate analyses, implying that invasive Phragmites provides habitat that appears to be as valuable for fish and invertebrates as other emergent vegetation types in the St. Clair River Delta. The findings of this study will ultimately benefit the literature on invasive Phragmites and its role as fish habitat in freshwater wetlands, and aid management agencies in decisions regarding control of the invasive species. Author Keywords: aquatic invasive species, aquatic macroinvertebrates, freshwater fish, freshwater wetlands, nMDS, Phragmites


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