Biological Sciences - Theses, Dissertations, and other Required Graduate Degree Essays

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Ideal free eagles: Bald eagle distribution patterns and use of kleptoparasitism on salmon rivers

Author: 
Date created: 
2019-05-15
Abstract: 

During the autumn, migrating bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) aggregate on coastal rivers to scavenge post-spawning salmon carcasses. In this thesis, I measured the abundance of eagles and salmon carcasses on a set of four adjacent rivers along the east coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Salmon carcasses first appeared in late September, increased in abundance until mid-November, and thereafter declined. The total number of eagles tracked the temporal and spatial abundance of salmon carcasses, and generally distributed across the rivers according to the predictions of Ideal Free Distribution. I determined that the incidence of kleptoparasitism matched the distribution of eagles, and found that kleptoparasitism attempts between eagles were affected by the age of the attacker and the behavioural tactic used. Overall, my results indicate that salmon abundance affects the regional distribution patterns and use of kleptoparasitism among aggregations of foraging eagles.

Document type: 
Thesis
File(s): 
Senior supervisor: 
Ron Ydenberg
Department: 
Science: Biological Sciences Department
Thesis type: 
(Thesis) M.Sc.

Environmental change and sockeye salmon life histories across space and time

Date created: 
2019-06-12
Abstract: 

Animals with complex life cycles migrate to exploit resources from different environments, but are exposed to multiple stressors and challenges. Here I investigated stressors across ontogenetic shifts in sockeye salmon. First, I examined migration and condition of juvenile sockeye salmon fry as they migrate from the Babine River, British Columbia, to upstream lake rearing habitat. High water velocities increased challenges to successful upstream migration to the lake, but lake rearing habitat was associated with larger fry (30% longer, 150% heavier). Second, I examined how multiple ocean stressors impact freshwater fecundity using a nearly 7-decade dataset from Fraser and Skeena sockeye salmon. Good ocean conditions and low biomass of salmon competitors were associated with younger, larger, more fecund sockeye. Spawning channel enhancement was associated with a small additional increase in fecundity. Collectively, my thesis highlights intricacies in the effects of multiple stressors on sockeye salmon across their complex life cycle.

Document type: 
Thesis
File(s): 
Senior supervisor: 
Jonathan Moore
Department: 
Science: Biological Sciences Department
Thesis type: 
(Thesis) M.Sc.

Science for community fisheries: Population assessment and climate impact monitoring for Heiltsuk-led salmon stewardship

Author: 
Date created: 
2019-05-14
Abstract: 

Small scale fisheries support the livelihoods of more than 20 million people and provide food security for millions more around the world, yet science has been slow to embrace the challenge of managing these fisheries. Salmon are foundational for the ecosystems and economies of coastal British Columbia, supporting food, social and ceremonial (FSC) fisheries for 196 First Nations. Despite their cultural and ecological importance, and their vulnerability to ongoing anthropogenic change, we lack the data necessary for management and conservation of wild salmon in much of BC, particularly the remote north and central coast (NCC). Juvenile sockeye rear in lakes for one or two years, so population sizes are often limited by the size and productivity of rearing lakes. Using limnological data collected by Fisheries and Oceans Canada, we built a landscape model of sockeye lake productivity and predicted population capacity for 157 lakes on the NCC. We used these predictions of capacity as priors in a hierarchical-Bayesian stock-recruit model, to estimate productivity, capacity, and conservation benchmarks for 70 sockeye populations. Sockeye are particularly vulnerable to changes in climate, with elevated rates of pre-spawn mortality among migrating adult sockeye at high temperature. Working with the Heiltsuk First Nation, QQs Projects Society, and the Hakai Institute, we established a community-based population monitoring program using a traditional-style salmon weir to capture and tag fish for mark-recapture and telemetry-based estimates of annual population size and temperature-mediated mortality among migrating adult sockeye in the Koeye River. We found rapid declines in survival to spawning when temperatures exceeded 15 °C. Furthermore, river entry measured by the number of fish tagged each day, ceased when the river level dropped below 0.4 m. When water levels are low, migrating sockeye may experience prolonged delays in marine waters, increasing vulnerability to fisheries and predators. Climate impacts on coastal sockeye may therefore be driven by the dual effects of warming temperature and low-water delays. This work will support the development of a Heiltsuk sockeye management plan, establishing management goals and conservation strategies across a territory spanning 15,000 km2 and more than 20 sockeye populations on the NCC.

Document type: 
Thesis
File(s): 
Senior supervisor: 
Jonathan Moore
Department: 
Science: Biological Sciences Department
Thesis type: 
(Thesis) Ph.D.

The lethal and sublethal effects of the anti-sea lice formulation Salmosan® on the Pacific spot prawn (Pandalus platyceros)

Author: 
Date created: 
2019-04-25
Abstract: 

Sea lice outbreaks in salmonid aquaculture can impact both farmed and wild salmon. Anti-sea lice chemotherapeutants used to treat these outbreaks are released directly into the water column after treatment, potentially exposing non-target organisms. Salmosan® (active ingredient: azamethiphos) has recently been approved for use in British Columbia as a sea lice treatment. In the present study, the lethal and sublethal effects of Salmosan® were examined in intermolt and post-molt Pacific spot prawns (Pandalus platyceros). Post-molt prawns were found to be more sensitive than intermolt prawns, and this sensitivity was exacerbated at higher exposure temperatures. Repeated (3 x) 1‑h LC50 values for post-molt prawns were 39.8, 27.1, and 17.1 µg/L at 5, 11 and 17 °C, respectively. All intermolt prawns survived 3 x 1-h exposures up to 100 µg/L azamethiphos at 5, 11 and 17 °C. Intermolt prawns held at 17 °C molted 83 – 91% sooner and experienced 70 – 73% greater mortality than those held at 5 or 11 C; azamethiphos did not affect either of these parameters. In a separate experiment, intermolt prawns displayed an 86 – 103% reduction in antennule flicking, a chemoreception-mediated behavior, at 24 h following repeated (3 x) 1-h exposures to 50 and 100 µg/L azamethiphos. These results may aid in the development of regulatory protocols and guidelines for the use of anti-sea lice pesticides in Canada.

Document type: 
Graduating extended essay / Research project
File(s): 
Senior supervisor: 
Chris Kennedy
Department: 
Science: Biological Sciences Department
Thesis type: 
(Project) M.E.T.

Floral and honeydew foraging ecology of select mosquito species

Author: 
Date created: 
2019-04-26
Abstract: 

Both male and female mosquitoes exploit a wide variety of plant sugar resources, including floral nectar and aphid honeydew, as important sources of carbohydrates. Mosquitoes are generally considered nectar thieves that do not pollinate the flowers they visit, and volatile semiochemicals are believed to be the primary driver of mosquito attraction to plant sugar sources. Using the northern house mosquito, Culex pipiens, and its nectar host the common tansy, Tanacetum vulgare, we showed mosquito-induced seed-set. We found that semiochemicals from T. vulgare flowers are attractive to Cx. pipiens and the yellow fever mosquito, Aedes aegypti, that visual and olfactory inflorescence cues in combination attract more mosquitoes than olfactory cues alone, and that plant CO2 enhances the attractiveness of a 20-component synthetic blend of tansy inflorescence odourants. This blend included 9 odourants found in human odour, which are also attractive. Electroretinograms revealed that Cx. pipiens eyes can sense ultra-violet (UV) wavelengths, with peak sensitivity at 335 nm. Experiments found that UV inflorescence cues of T. vulgare and the common hawkweed, Hieracium lachenalii, enhance the attractiveness of inflorescence odour to female Cx. pipiens through floral patterns of UV-absorption and UV-reflection. We then established the attraction of Ae. aegypti to honeydew odourants from the green peach aphid, Myzus persicae, and the pea aphid, Acyrthosiphon pisum, feeding on fava bean, Vicia faba. We collected and analyzed headspace odourants from honeydew of A. pisum feeding on V. faba. An 8-component synthetic blend of these odourants and synthetic odourant blends of crude and sterile honeydew we prepared from literature data all attracted female Ae. aegypti. The synthetic blend containing microbial odour constituents proved more effective than the blend without these constituents. Our data support the hypotheses that mosquitoes are pollinators, that the entire inflorescence Gestalt of olfactory, CO2 and UV cues is more attractive to mosquitoes than floral odourants alone, that olfactory cues attract mosquitoes to honeydew, and that microbe-emitted volatiles play a role in mosquito attraction to honeydew.

Document type: 
Thesis
File(s): 
Senior supervisor: 
Gerhard Gries
Department: 
Science: Biological Sciences Department
Thesis type: 
(Thesis) Ph.D.

Investigations into the roles of thyroid hormone and retinoic acid on opsin expression in juvenile rainbow trout

Author: 
Date created: 
2019-03-27
Abstract: 

Thyroid hormone (TH) and retinoic acid (RA) are powerful modulators of photoreceptor differentiation during vertebrate retinal development. In the embryos and young juveniles of salmonid fishes and rodents, TH induces switches in opsin expression within individual cones, a phenomenon that also occurs in adult rodents following prolonged (12 week) hypothyroidism. The ability of TH to modulate opsin expression in the differentiated retina of fish, and the role of RA in inducing opsin switches, if any, is unknown. Here I investigate the action of TH and RA on single cone opsin expression and the absorbance of visual pigments in juvenile rainbow trout. Prolonged TH exposure increased the wavelength of maximum absorbance (λmax) of the rod, and the medium (M, green) and long (L, red) wavelength visual pigments, and affected single cone opsin expression in the alevin. RA did not induce any opsin switches nor change the visual pigment absorbance of photoreceptors.

Document type: 
Thesis
File(s): 
Senior supervisor: 
Inigo Novales Flamarique
Department: 
Science: Biological Sciences Department
Thesis type: 
(Thesis) M.Sc.

Microbiome analysis at a proposed northern Canadian mine site

Author: 
Date created: 
2019-04-11
Abstract: 

Copper is a metal that can persist in the environment following anthropogenic activities. The toxic effects of metals such as copper in aquatic environments can be decreased through bioremediation efforts. Prior to proposed mining operations, upstream sites in a Canadian watercourse showed elevated copper concentrations in conjunction with low pH values. Downstream sites showed low copper concentrations and higher pH values. Natural bioremediation has possibly occurred in the area resulting in reduced copper concentrations. Microbial populations were sampled at five sites along the watercourse to determine their community profiles through 16S rRNA gene sequencing and assess the natural bioremediation process. Results showed the Gallionellaceae family dominated the community at the high copper concentration sites. Metagenome sequencing of the site with the highest copper concentration and one site upstream indicated an enrichment of metal tolerance genes, revealing microbial tolerance to this acidic metals-rich environment and suggesting possible mechanisms of bioremediation.

Document type: 
Graduating extended essay / Research project
Senior supervisor: 
Christopher Kennedy
Department: 
Science: Biological Sciences Department
Thesis type: 
(Project) M.E.T.

The influence of predation danger on the distribution of non-breeding shorebirds in a tropical estuary system

Date created: 
2019-04-05
Abstract: 

I studied non-breeding shorebirds in the extensive mangrove-mudflat system of Northern Nariño, Colombia. I asked how the non-breeding distributions of 18 species are influenced by functional traits, the interplay between food and danger attributes of landscapes, and interactions with other species. I found that almost all the area’s ~8000 Whimbrels (Numenius phaeopus) roost together on just one of the hundreds of available mangrove islands. Much smaller numbers occasionally roost on a few other islands. The larger roost site is distinguished by its location, having a larger amount of Whimbrel feeding habitat (mudflat) within a 12 km radius than almost any other mangrove island, and being more isolated from the mainland and thus from terrestrial predators, but not more isolated from villages or shipping channels than other islands. Within a subset of nine shorebird species, an increase in body mass predicted an increase in wing load both within and between species. Contrary to expectations, wing load did not correlate strongly with escape performance (take off speed), but as expected, heavier wing loads did correlate with stronger escape responses (flight initiation distances) across species. Species with higher escape performance use habitats that are more productive, but also more dangerous, while species with lower escape performance reacted sooner to predator stimulus. Tactile and gregarious species show stronger responses to safety gradients. An analysis of co-occurrence of species pairs demonstrated that non-random patterns were prevalent within communities of non-breeding shorebirds. Species pairs tracking same or opposing environmental gradients explain some positive and negative associations, but a large proportion of the associations was due to residual variation linked to the species themselves. Positive associations could be explained by heterospecific attraction associated with reducing predation danger and public information about resources. The fewer negative associations could indicate competitive interference. Alternatively, other sources of environmental variation not captured in this study could explain these “species only” associations. Our results contrast with previous studies of avian communities for which shared environmental responses play a larger role and suggest that social interactions are as important in structuring shorebird communities. This thesis demonstrates how using distribution models informed by species’ morphology, behavior, and interactions with other species, we will be better equipped to understand the effects of habitat conversion on the conservation of migratory shorebirds.

Document type: 
Thesis
File(s): 
Senior supervisor: 
Ronald C. Ydenberg
Department: 
Science: Biological Sciences Department
Thesis type: 
(Thesis) Ph.D.

The context-dependent spread and impacts of invasive marine crabs

Author: 
Date created: 
2019-03-15
Abstract: 

Following the establishment of a non-native species, there is often speculation about the potential impacts to the native ecosystem. While these early predictions may be necessary for management, they are often based on a general understanding of invasion ecology rather than context-specific research. The unique nature of each introduction event means these generalizations are prone to over- or under-estimating invasive species impacts. This thesis predicts the impacts of invasive marine true crabs (infraorder Brachyura), with a focus on the invasive European green crab (Carcinus maenas), using both general ‘rules of thumb’ and context-specific research. In Chapter 2, I conduct a meta-analysis to demonstrate that while native and invasive crabs typically have a similar overall impact on prey species, some combinations of prey type and experimental design can favour invasive crabs. In Chapter 3, I examine the geographical variability of green crab impacts worldwide. Using green crabs collected from invasive (South Africa and Canada) and native (Northern Ireland) populations, I conduct a comparative functional response experiment to show how the foraging behaviour of an invasive species varies among regions. In Chapter 4, I use an enclosure experiment to determine how the impact of green crabs on eelgrass (Zostera marina) ecosystems changes with crab density, and conclude that there is the potential for extensive loss of habitat-forming eelgrass in the presence of high densities of green crabs. In Chapter 5, I explore the issue of site-level variability in the abundance, and therefore potential impact, of green crabs on the west coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia. I develop a species distribution model to identify small-scale biotic and abiotic predictors of ‘hyper-abundant’ populations of green crab. The thesis as a whole explores the generalizations often used to predict invasive impacts and prioritize impact mitigation efforts. I find that, for green crabs, generalizations that rely on the origin or specific invasion history of an invasive species are prone to over-estimating impact. However, measures of density or abundance, paired with an understanding of context-specific behaviours, are more likely to produce reliable impact predictions for these invasive species.

Document type: 
Thesis
File(s): 
Senior supervisor: 
Isabelle Côté
Thomas Therriault
Department: 
Science: Biological Sciences Department
Thesis type: 
(Thesis) Ph.D.

Plant-pollinator interactions of the oak-savanna: Evaluation of community structure and dietary specialization

Author: 
Date created: 
2019-04-08
Abstract: 

Pollination events are highly dynamic and adaptive interactions that may vary across spatial scales. Furthermore, the composition of species within a location can highly influence the interactions between trophic levels, which may impact community resilience to disturbances. Here, I evaluated the species composition and interactions of plants and pollinators across a latitudinal gradient, from Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada to the Willamette and Umpqua Valleys in Oregon and Washington, United States of America. I surveyed 16 oak-savanna communities within three ecoregions (the Strait of Georgia/ Puget Lowlands, the Willamette Valley, and the Klamath Mountains), documenting interactions and abundances of the plants and pollinators. I then conducted various multivariate and network analyses on these communities to understand the effects of space and species composition on community resilience. In addition, I evaluated the pollen composition and floral visit patterns of a mid-sized mining-bee, Andrena angustitarsata, to understand how foraging preferences and dietary specialization may change across space and with varying floral compositions. I found that spatial scales had an effect on species compositions, the interactions between plants and insects, and the foraging preferences of pollinators. I learned that some groups of pollinators may provide stability in networks by increasing generalized interactions and reducing specialization. Additionally, the foraging preferences, A. angustitarsata, were conserved across spatial scales, despite fluctuations in plant compositions and abundances. However, A. angustitarsata is likely not oligolectic, a pollen specialist, because of its ability to facultatively forage on additional plants other than its preferred host plants. Overall, my results show that spatial scales can influence the composition and interactions of plants and pollinators, thus influencing the degree to which species interact and the ability of the community to maintain structure after a disturbance.

Document type: 
Thesis
File(s): 
Senior supervisor: 
Elizabeth Elle
Department: 
Science: Biological Sciences Department
Thesis type: 
(Thesis) M.Sc.