Wildlife mass mortality events can have profound ecological consequences and may be becoming more frequent or severe due to climate change, anthropogenic factors or other stressors. Mortality events involving echinoderms are of particular concern because of the important role echinoderms play in structuring marine ecosystems. In this thesis I explore the local consequences of a widespread sea star mortality event, and investigate the global trends in echinoderm mass mortality events. I found that the mass mortality of the sunflower sea star Pycnopodia helianthoides, which began in the summer of 2013 as a result of a wasting syndrome, resulted in a trophic cascade involving urchins and kelp at the local scale (i.e., Howe Sound, BC). A global review of reports of echinoderm die-offs revealed that these events have not become more frequent or extensive since 1897. However, disease and climate change may be playing an increasing role. This study provides some of the first evidence of subtidal community shifts following sea star wasting syndrome, and highlights the need for consistent and comprehensive documentation of echinoderm population trends in the literature to increase our understanding of mass mortality events.
Spiders provide a fascinating opportunity for the study of animal communication. Web-building spiders build their own signalling environments - the web is the medium that transmits vibrations from prey, predators and potential mates. However, we know little about how information is conveyed through different types of webs, or how spiders distinguish between different types of vibrations. In this thesis, I studied elements of vibratory communication in two species of spiders with contrasting web architecture: the western black widow, Latrodectus hesperus, which builds a tangle-web, and the hobo spider, Eratigena agrestis, which builds a funnel-web. In chapter 2, I document formerly undescribed life history traits of E. agrestis, and conclude that life history traits are robust to differential predator and competitor densities across two study sites in British Columbia. In chapter 3, I present hitherto lacking quantitative descriptions of courtship behaviours in L. hesperus, revealing that web reduction by males correlates with reduced female aggression, and that it may improve mating success of courting males. In chapter 4, I describe how vibration frequencies are transmitted through the webs of L. hesperus and E. agrestis. I found little difference in propagation efficiency between longitudinal and transverse vibrations and that in both species vibration transmission is more variable within webs than between webs, suggesting that specific frequencies play a minor role in signalling. In chapter 5, I tested whether male courtship produces vibratory signals that differ from prey cues. I analysed vibrations produced by courting males and by two types of prey (flies and crickets) on the webs of L. hesperus and E. agrestis, and also played back male and prey vibrations through the webs of L. hesperus. Male vibrations differ more from those of prey in L. hesperus than in E. agrestis. This finding supports the hypothesis that L. hesperus males, faced with aggressive females, produce vibrations that prevent them from being mistaken for prey. The low-amplitude vibrations caused by abdominal tremulations of L. hesperus males may be linked with lowered female aggression.
Methylmercury is a widespread contaminant that has been shown in multiple studies to cause behavioural and reproductive effects on piscivorous birds. Previously, it was thought that non-aquatic birds (such as passerines) were not at risk for methylmercury toxicity. However, in recent years high blood mercury levels have been found in free-living passerines. In the current study, zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata) chicks were treated with methylmercury during the nestling stage of early development to simulate exposure from food provisioning by the parents. Despite a dose response relationship shown in the blood mercury analyses, no effects of dose were found for growth, development, or behaviour of the chicks. No long-term effects were seen on male courtship and song or female reproductive success. The lack of treatment effects in these experiments indicates that the nesting stage may be less sensitive in passerines, possibly due the sequestration of mercury into growing feathers.
The lysosomal storage disease Mucopolysaccharidosis I, involving lysosomal deficiency of α-L-iduronidase (IDUA), is often characterized by extensive ER-associated degradation (ERAD) of missense mutant IDUAs, folding variants which often retain residual activity. Compound X-372, identified from a plant cell-based screen of 1,040 FDA-approved drugs, enhanced the post-ER transport of ERAD-prone P533R-IDUA. Here, dose response studies of compound treatment on Nicotiana tabacum BY2 protoplasts, expressing human wild-type and ERAD-prone R383H-IDUA, not only validated the rescuing effect of X-372, but also indicated this effect occurred via augmenting a general cellular process. Microarray analysis and subsequent quantitative PCR validation of candidate genes showed that the therapeutic effect of X-372 was linked to augmented sulfur assimilation. Reduced glutathione - a product of the sulfur assimilation pathway that is also a potent cellular antioxidant – is a target for future studies to identify the specific means by which X-372 enhances the post-ER transport of ERAD-prone folding mutants.
The microtubule-associated protein EB1b inhibits root responses to mechanical stimulation. The goal of this study was to understand more clearly how EB1b regulates these responses. Loss of EB1b did not alter root elongation rates in response to mechanical cues. However, overexpressing EB1b had an inhibitory effect on root elongation. Mutant eb1b-1 Arabidopsis plants expressing truncated EB1b proteins, with and without GFP fusions, were generated. Truncations included both N-terminal (microtubule-binding) and C-terminal (protein-interaction) domains. Transgenic mutants expressing a truncated version of EB1b missing part of the C-terminal domain were analyzed. The responses of these mutant roots to mechanical stimulation was similar to untransformed eb1b-1 mutants. Since previous analyses have shown that responses of mutants expressing full-length EB1b are equivalent to wild type, this result indicates that the EB1b C-terminus is required for normal regulation of root responses to mechanical cues and that interactions between EB1b and other, non-tubulin proteins is involved.
Based on sequence similarity to the well-studied Arabidopsis thaliana MP/ARF5 gene, we hypothesized that the Oryza sativa Auxin Response Factor 11 (OsARF11) gene is a prime candidate for auxin-signaling mediated development in rice. Here we describe characterizations of two independent insertion mutants in the OsARF11 gene. Our results reveal that homozygous plants of both allelic mutants have reduced shoot and root growth and produce fewer seeds compared to wild type plants grown under the same growth conditions. In addition, the number of leaf veins per leaf and per unit leaf width is reduced, as is the width of leaf mid veins. Taken together, the results demonstrate for the first time that OsARF11 contributes to plant growth, fecundity, and the regulation of leaf vein patterning in rice. The results also suggest that OsARF11 may be a suitable target for breeding on these traits.
Lewis’s Woodpeckers (Melanerpes lewis) are Threatened in Canada and rely on pre-existing cavities for nesting. I studied how cavity density, competition, and predators influence Lewis’s Woodpecker breeding performance across three habitats in British Columbia, and investigated the broad-scale patterns of nest tree persistence and reuse over time. I found that Lewis’s Woodpecker breeding performance was high in riparian cottonwood habitat, moderate in live pine, and lowest in crown-burned pine habitat. Cavity density explained habitat-based breeding performance. Nest tree persistence was generally high, but declined over time, and while nest tree reuse varied dramatically across years, there was no consistent temporal pattern. Our results suggest that 1) resource managers should use regionally-specific data for managing Lewis’s Woodpecker populations, and 2) cavities may be a limiting factor for the recovery of Lewis’s Woodpecker populations in Canada, particularly in regions where nest tree persistence is lower and may not support recruitment.
Attract-and-kill tactics for control of house flies (Musca domestica) often use foraging cues as attractants. To investigate foraging resources for indoor attraction of house flies, I tested the response of flies to various human foods and a floral resource. In two-choice laboratory bioassays, only dandelion flowers and dandelion honey attracted flies. Analytical attempts to capture the essential semiochemicals from these resources failed, highlighting the need to develop alternative approaches. Another potentially effective foraging cue is the “fly factor”, the phenomenon that food currently or previously fed on by flies attracts more flies than the same type of food kept inaccessible to flies. In two-choice laboratory bioassays, I demonstrate that the fly factor exists in house flies. Of the mechanisms tested potentially causing the fly factor, only fly feces and regurgitate attract flies. Attraction of flies to fly feces and regurgitate indicates that flies sense airborne semiochemicals emanating from these sources.
British Columbia’s South Okanagan has an expanding wine industry and supports the greatest diversity of bats in Canada. I surveyed bat activity in six matched pairs of vineyards and adjacent natural sagebrush habitats during the summer of 2013 using a unique radar-acoustic system, which I described and evaluated. By evaluating the characteristics of radar tracks and combining radar and acoustic data, I was able to compare bat activity over the habitats. Target parameters (height, speed, and relative size measured as Signal-to-Noise Ratio) had similar distributions in both habitats. There was no statistical difference between habitats in mean target track length per unit area or in the mean number of acoustic ‘individual bat passes’, nor did these measures differ between surveys in early (bat pregnancy and parturition), middle (lactation) and late summer (pup fledging). My results suggest that the amount of bat activity over vineyards and natural habitats is similar; however the use of habitat by bat species differs.
Species inhabiting coastal areas can serve as indicators of marine pollution. Hydrocarbons occur naturally in marine ecosystems and wildlife have evolved detoxification systems to manage hydrocarbon exposure. Human activities may increase hydrocarbons in the environment, to the extent that they may be detrimental to biota. Elevated hydrocarbon exposure can be measured directly as increased concentrations in some species, or through biomarkers of active detoxification systems. I found that cytochrome P4501A induction in liver tissue of Barrow’s goldeneyes (Bucephala islandica) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) concentration in their winter prey, blue mussels (Mytilus spp.) were correlated across coastal sites in British Columbia, despite generally low PAH concentrations. Using satellite telemetry, I determined that winter movements of Pacific goldeneyes were small, indicating that biomarkers reflected local hydrocarbon levels. These results indicate that the mussel – goldeneye system is useful for evaluating contemporary marine hydrocarbon contamination and recovery endpoints in the event of spills.