Graduate Theses & Dissertations


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
Changes in Forms of Uranium in Anoxic Lake Sediments and Porewaters Near an Abandoned Uranium Mine, Bancroft, Ontario
Soluble uranium (U) has been observed continuously in the porewaters of Bentley Lake, a lake with semi-permanent anoxic sediments, despite the fact that reduced U(IV) is known to be insoluble. To be able to predict the fate and mobility of U that has been deposited in lake sediments, it is very important to understand the factors that determine soluble uranium in anoxic environments. Understanding soluble U species is crucial for predicting its behavior in natural systems as well as for the development of U remediation schemes. To explore the factors affecting soluble U in natural environments, anoxic lake sediments and porewaters were tested using two analytic methods, ICP-MS and ESI-HR-MS. Reduced uranium (U(IV)) can be precipitated as U(IV)-NdF3. Using this method revealed that most of the uranium in porewater is not able to be co-precipitated with NdF3. In addition, UO2+ was found using ESI-HR-MS, showing uranyl ions exist in reduced porewater. However, the UO2+ might be attached to some organic groups rather than present as free ions. Seasonal variation and air exposure experiments on the mobility of U between sediments and porewater were observed to test for changes of the redox state of U as a function of sample collection and storage. The results of this study will contribute to better remediation strategies for U tailings and will help U mining operations in the future. Author Keywords:
Relationships between Dissolved Organic Matter and Vanadium Speciation in the Churchill River, MB and the Mackenzie River Basin, NWT using diffusive gradients in thin films (DGT)
This study examines the influence of dissolved organic matter (DOM) on dissolved vanadium (V) speciation in the Churchill River and Great Slave Lake using diffusive gradients in thin film (DGT). Vanadium is commonly found in natural environments such as rivers, lakes and oceans. It regulates normal cell growth, but in excessive amounts, it can have toxic effects on human and aquatic organisms. The use of in situ, time integrated DGT devices allows to better (1) monitor the most bioavailable fraction of V, the DGT-labile V, in Arctic Rivers and (2) assess the influence of DOM on dissolved V speciation. Higher DGT-labile V was found in the the central regions of the Mackenzie River (MR), with an average of 7.7 ± 2.3 nM, likely due to sediment leaching and permafrost thawing. The Churchill River and Great Slave Lake (GSL) showed lower DGT-labile V levels (2.2 ± 1.6 nM and 3.6 ± 2.7 nM, respectively), compared to central regions in MR. The CR DGT-labile V concentrations was positively correlated to protein-like DOM concentration and abundance (r = 0.3, p < 0.05). The data collected from this study will help in developing new strategies regarding environmental health and impact assessments of environmentally hazardous waste that consist of potentially high levels of toxic vanadium species. Developments in the use of DGT devices as a sampling method will also aid in future studies involved in analyzing environmental health and specifically dissolved V species in natural waters. Author Keywords: diffusive gradients in thin-films, dissolved organic matter, fluorescence, mass spectrometry, UV-Vis, vanadium
Lipid-derived Thermoplastic Poly(ester urethane)s
Thermoplastic poly(ester urethane)s (TPEU)s derived from vegetable oils possess inferior physical properties compared to their entirely petroleum-based counterparts due to the structural limitations and lower reactivity of the precursor lipid-derived monomers. The present work shows that high molecular weight of TPEUs with enhanced performance can be obtained from lipid-derived monomers via (i) the synthesis of polyester diols with controlled molecular weights, (ii) the tuning of the functional group stoichiometry of the polyester diols and the diisocyanate during polymerization, (iii) the degree of polymerization (iv) the control of the hard segment hydrogen bond density and distribution via the use of a chain extender and (v) different polymerization protocols. Solvent-resistant TPEUs with high molecular weight displaying polyethylene-like behavior and controlled polyester and urethane segment phase separation were obtained. Structure-property investigations revealed that the thermal transition temperatures and tensile properties increased and eventually plateaued with increasing molecular weight. Novel segmented TPEUs possessed high phase separation and showed elastomeric properties such as low modulus and high elongation analogous to rubber. The response of the structurally optimized TPEUs to environmental degradation was also established by subjecting the TPEUs to hydrothermal ageing. TPEUs exhibited thermal and mechanical properties that were comparable to commercially available entirely petroleum-based counterparts, and that could be tuned in order to achieve enhanced physical properties and controlled degradability. Author Keywords: Hydrothermal degradation, Molecular weight control, Polyester diols, Renewable resources, Structure-property relationships, Thermoplastic poly(ester urethane)s
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 effects and fate of environmental contaminants in invasive, native, and endangered macrophytes
Macrophytes play an important role in aquatic ecosystems, and thus are integral to ecological risk assessments of environmental contaminants. In this dissertation, I address gaps in the assessments of contaminant fate and effects in macrophytes, with focus on glyphosate herbicide use for invasive plant control. First, I evaluated the suitability of Typha as future standard test species to represent emergent macrophytes in risk assessments. I concluded that Typha is ecologically relevant, straight-forward to grow, and its sensitivity can be assessed with various morphological and physiological endpoints. Second, I assessed effects from glyphosate (Roundup WeatherMAX® formulation) spray drift exposure on emergent non-target macrophytes. I performed toxicity tests with five taxa, Phragmites australis, Typha × glauca, Typha latifolia, Ammannia robusta, and Sida hermaphrodita, which in Canada collectively represent invasive, native, and endangered species. I found significant differences in glyphosate sensitivity among genera, and all species’ growth was adversely affected at concentrations as low as 0.1% (0.54 g/L), much below the currently used rate (5%, 27 g/L). Third, I assessed the potential for glyphosate accumulation in and release from treated plant tissues. I found that P. australis and T. × glauca accumulate glyphosate following spray treatment, and that accumulated glyphosate can leach out of treated plant tissues upon their submergence in water. Finally, I assessed effects of released glyphosate on non-target macrophytes. I found that P. australis and T. × glauca leachate containing glyphosate residues can stimulate the germination and seedling growth of T. latifolia, but can exert an inhibiting effect on A. robusta, although leachate without glyphosate caused similar responses in both plants. Additionally, I found no negative effects in A. robusta when exposed to glyphosate residues in surface water, or when grown with rhizosphere contact to an invasive plant that was wicked (touched) with glyphosate. My results show that non-target macrophytes can be at risk from glyphosate spray for invasive plant control, but risks can be mitigated through informed ecosystem management activities, such as targeted wick-applications or removing plant litter. Integrating contaminant fate and effect assessments with emergent macrophytes into ecological risk assessments can support the protection of diverse macrophyte communities. Author Keywords: Ecosystem management, Ecotoxicology, Glyphosate, Herbicide, Invasive plant, Species at risk
Assessing Measured and Perceived Risks to Drinking Water Sources
Microcontaminants originating from wastewater effluent and run-off from agricultural lands may be present in the sources of drinking water for rural and Indigenous communities in mixed-use watersheds. In this study, a convergent parallel mixed-methods design was applied to assess measured and perceived risks of contamination in the sources of drinking water for two communities; the Six Nations of the Grand River community in Ontario and the community of Soufriere in St. Lucia, West Indies. The overall goal of the project was to assess how measured and perceived risks of exposure to chemical and biological contaminants in drinking water sources could inform water management strategies for the communities. Quantitative data obtained from the analysis of water samples collected indicated that the highest levels and occurrence of fecal bacteria were found in the Soufriere watershed while the highest concentrations and occurrence of pesticides were found in the Grand River watershed. In the Grand River watershed, conventional treatment of water followed by activated carbon filtration and UV disinfection removed fecal bacteria and also removed many chemical microcontaminants with efficiencies as high as 98%. Data from both watersheds indicated that there was a strong positive correlation between the levels of caffeine and sucralose (i.e. indicators of wastewater contamination) in water samples and the levels of either Total Coliforms or fecal bacteria of human origin. Human health risk assessments of individual pesticides and pesticide mixtures performed by applying a hazard quotient (HQ) and hazard index (HI) model, respectively indicated that there were no apparent risks to human health from those microcontaminants. Qualitative data obtained from face-to-face interviews with water managers and health professionals working in the two communities, which were collected and analysed concurrently but independently, illustrated that there were cross-cultural similarities and differences in factors influencing the perceptions of risks associated with the sources of drinking water. These perceptions of risks were mainly influenced by factors such as heuristics or informal and informal reasoning, cognitive-affective factors, social-political institutions and cultural factors. These factors may have also influenced water managers and health professionals, as they often recommended more “soft” strategies for managing water resources in the communities. Key words: pesticides, fecal bacteria, microcontaminants, POCIS, measured risks, perceived risks, water management, First Nations, Grand River, Soufriere, St. Lucia Author Keywords: fecal bacteria, measured risks, microcontaminants, perceived risks, POCIS, water management
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
Differences and similarities in exploration and risk-taking behaviours of two Myotis bat species.
AbstractDifferences and similarities in exploration and risk-taking behaviours of two Myotis bat species. Laura Michele Scott Behaviours that are repeatable across circumstances and time determine an individual’s personality. Personality and behavioural variation are subject to selective pressures, including risks related to the use of different habitat types. I explored the ecological and evolutionary consequences of habitat selection by comparing the behaviour of two sympatric bat species, Myotis leibii and M. lucifugus. These species display overlap in roosting preferences, however, M. leibii tend to roost in crevices on the ground, while M. lucifugus tend to roost in crevices or cavities that are raised off the ground. I hypothesized that the habitat selection patterns of these two species create behavioural reaction norms at the species level. I predicted that ground roosting behaviour favours bolder personality and more exploratory and active traits when compared with bats that do not ground roost. I examined inter- and intra-specific variation in behaviour using a modified, three-dimensional open-field test and quantified the frequency and duration of behaviours such as flying, landing, and crawling. Bats were continuously video-recorded over 1-hour nocturnal and diurnal trials. I used a priori mixed models with combinations of individual characteristics and life-history traits to select the models that best describe each species. We found that M. leibii (n = 15) displayed more exploratory and bolder behaviours than M. lucifugus while on the ground (n = 21) and higher overall activity during the trial. I also found that M. leibii displayed crawling behaviours and movements consistent with foraging while on the ground which is a rare behaviour in bats and only observed in a few species (Desmodus rotundus and Mystacina tuberculate to my knowledge). Future research should explore biomechanical adaptations associated with ground-foraging in M. leibii. Author Keywords: Bats, Behaviour, Exploration, Myotis leibii, Myotis lucifugus, Roosting
Robust assessment of changes in wild mammal occupancy and activity relative to livestock and human disturbance
Anthropogenic activities such as human activity and livestock grazing are responsible for the global rise in disturbance impacts on wildlife and may underlie regional changes in biodiversity and ecosystem dynamics. Few studies have tried to disentangle the effects of different anthropogenic activities on wildlife behaviour, leaving a major gap in our understanding of conservation and management needs in disturbed areas. Human activity and livestock grazing are increasing in spread and intensity worldwide, thereby imposing pressure on both wildlife and natural areas. In this thesis, I used a camera trapping and occupancy modeling framework to assess whether human presence and livestock grazing had different impacts on site occupancy and activity of 10 wild mammal species, and how responses differed across taxa. Specifically, I predicted that all species would be sensitive to disturbance, but the type and intensity of the response would depend on disturbance type. I detected different responses to each disturbance type across species, but response type (displacement, activity change, crepuscularity) was not associated with species characteristics such as body. Importantly, disturbance intensity had a strong effect on wildlife activity levels, with many species exhibiting marked reductions in activity at high human or livestock disturbance intensity. It remains unclear whether all species’ responses are a direct consequence of disturbance versus indirect outcomes of shifts in behaviour of other species in the wildlife community (i.e., disturbance-related changes in prey activity may affect predator activity). Although on the whole disturbance intensity and effect sizes tended to be relatively low in this study, responses were exhibited across all species, implying that disturbance responses may be universal in wild mammals and largely underestimated. Ultimately, my work offers a template for the robust assessment of disturbance impacts on wildlife and provides new avenues for future research to deepen our understanding of wildlife sensitivity to anthropogenic activities. Author Keywords: activity, anthropogenic disturbance, human activity, livestock, occupancy, wildlife
Temporal variation of dissolved organic matter and diffusive gradient in thin films-labile mercury in the Quesnel river, BC, and the Goose Creek tributary of Churchill river, MB
This study examined dissolved organic matter (DOM) and labile Mercury (from diffusive gradient in thin films (DGT)) in the Quesnel river, British and the Goose creek tributary of the Churchill river, Manitoba. DOM properties were measured with optical measurements of absorption coefficient (a254), spectral slopes (S275-295, SR) and fluorescence indices (HIX, BIX, FI). The DOC proxy measurements (a254) were almost 10 times higher at the Churchill site (Mean a254 116.77 cm-1) compared with the Quesnel river site (Mean a254 12.06 cm-1) during the study periods. While DGT labile Hg concentrations at the Quesnel site (2.17 to 98.97ppt) were almost 10 times more than the levels reported at the Churchill site (0.03 to 9.06 ppt). Fluorescence indices and the rise of labile Hg concentrations in spring indicated mostly terrestrial sources of DOM at both the sites. Spectral slopes and fluorescence indices substantiated that Churchill site had high molecular weight, complex and more humic DOM compared with Quesnel. DOM at both the sites was prone to temporal variation and affected by environmental conditions. Correlation between DGT labile-Hg and DOM parameters suggested that DGT collected Hg-organic complexes along with inorganic labile-Hg complexes. Author Keywords: Churchill, Diffusive gradient in thin films, Dissolved organic matter, Labile Hg, Mercury, Quesnel
Distribution of Cluster Fly Species (Pollenia, spp. Diptera
This thesis looks at the genus Pollenia: historically where they were first introduced into Canada and spatially, where they are found now. This project involved me identifying 2211 files, sorted from the 3 years of field specimens obtained in 2011, 2012, 2013. P. pediculata was the most abundant and widespread, yielding 1272 specimens out of 2211, and it was found in all provinces sampled. The previous understanding of all Pollenia specimens as being P. rudis appears to be incorrect both in terms of actual number of species – which is known – and how prevalent it is. P. rudis comprised only 20% of the entire collection. The least common was P. griseotomentosa, occurring as 45 of 2211, or 2%. I found new eight first provincial records: four species in Alberta (P. angustigena, P. labialis, P. rudis, P. vagabunda) , one species for Saskatchewan (P. pediculata), two for New Brunswick (P. griseotomentosa, P. labialis), and one for Nova Scotia (P. labialis). P. labialis was new to three provinces, the other species to one province each. Author Keywords: Calliphoridae, Canada, Cluster Fly, Distribution, Pollenia, Provincial Records


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