Student Award Recipients - Platform

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Year Recipient Title and Abstract
2000 Mark Thompson

University of Calgary

Title: Phylogeographic analysis of Ambystoma macrodactylum: post-glacial tracks and resultant genetic diversity



2001 Jean-François Desroches

McGill University

Title: Characteristics, movements, and health of a Western Chorus Frog (Pseudacris triseriata) population at a breeding pond in southwestern Québec

Authors: Jean-François Desroches and Martin Ouellet

Abstract: We studied a population of Western Chorus Frogs (Pseudacris triseriata) at a breeding pond in southwestern Qu�bec. A total of 951 captures of 842 adults was made between 19 April and 28 May 2001, using a 225 meter-long drift fence surrounding the pond. Frogs were measured, weighed, examined for diseases and deformities, marked, and released. The majority of individuals (97.1% or 540/556) arrived from day 0 to 7, with a peak (57.9% or 322/556) at day 3. Almost all frogs (99.5% or 393/395) left the pond from day 15 to 39, with a peak on day 15 (44.1% or 174/395). The sex-ratio was biased in favor of males (489 males: 353 females). For males (N=54) and females (N=49) that were recaptured, the mean duration in the breeding pond was 24.2±10.3 days and 20.2±9.7 days, respectively. Including frogs caught after the breeding season, a total of 864 adults was examined (499 males and 365 females). Females were slightly larger (SVL=25.48±0.08mm, N=365; weight=1.08±0.02g, N=197) than males (SVL=24.66±0.07mm, N=498; weight=0.95±0.01g, N=253). The tibia length was correlated with the SVL for both sexes (r2=0.711, N=503, p< 0.001). Overall, 54 (6.3%) presented body scars or traumatic digit amputations and 22 (2.5%) had minor anomalies such as brachymely, syndactyly, or eye color variant (black eyes). Chytridiomycosis was diagnosed in 54 of 142 (38.0%) adult P. triseriata sampled during the breeding period. Chytrid infection is enzootic in this apparently healthy population and has not yet been associated to any cases of disease or mortality.

2002 Virginia A. Abbott

Lakehead University

Title: Amphibian distribution in Northwestern Ontario: assessing the role of local habitat and landscape characteristics

Authors: Virginia A. Abbott, Shannon Maronese and Stephen J. Hecnar

Abstract: Habitat loss is considered a serious threat to many amphibian populations, and has been implicated as a major cause of global amphibian decline. As a result of their dual-lives, and dependence on water, both aquatic breeding habitats and their adjacent terrestrial habitats are crucial for the persistence of amphibian populations and communities. From either ecological or conservation perspectives it is important to understand which habitat components may influence the occurrence of amphibians at a breeding site. We assessed the status of amphibians using presence/absence surveys, and investigated amphibian distribution and species richness with respect to local habitat and landscape characteristics at ponds. We repeatedly surveyed 69 ponds in Northwestern Ontario from 2001 to 2002. Local habitat characteristics evaluated include pond area, perimeter, volume, depth, bank slope, pH, conductivity, turbidity, and the structure of vegetation within and along the edge of each pond. Landscape variables were assessed using GIS software, and included forest cover, number of wetlands, lakes and rivers, length of paved and unpaved roads, landscape heterogeneity, and elevation within a 2 km radius of each pond. We observed ten species of amphibians throughout this study. Species incidence at all our ponds were as follows: Pseudacris crucifer (100%), Rana sylvatica (98.6%), Bufo americanus (91.3%), P. triseriata (66.7%), R. septentrionalis (63.8%), Hyla versicolor (47.8%), R. clamitans (26.1%), R. pipiens (13%), Ambystoma laterale (13%), and A. maculatum (11.6%). Species richness over the two-year period was approximately 4.6 ± 0.14, and preliminary multiple regression analyses suggest that species richness is associated with depth, volume, pH, conductivity, and emergent and edge vegetation. Furthermore, preliminary logistic regression analyses suggests that each species is associated with a different set of habitat characteristics, except P. crucifer and R. sylvatica which were present in all ponds. These results will enable us to predict species presence at a breeding site, as well as crucial aquatic and terrestrial habitat components for amphibians.

2004 Constance Browne

Lakehead University

Constance with Dave Cunnington
Title: Population declines of freshwater turtles in Point Pelee National Park

Authors: Constance L. Browne* and Stephen J. Hecnar

Abstract: Turtles are of conservation concern worldwide and in Canada 8 of 10 freshwater turtles are considered to be at riskby COSEWIC. We examined the status of turtle populations in Point Pelee National Park in 2001/2002. Point Pelee is located in southwestern Ontario and historically has been the location of greatest turtle diversity in Canada. Recently, park staff have been concerned of turtle population declines. Our objectives were to examine the status of turtle populations and the effects of nest predation and road mortality. We used mark-recapture/trapping and intensive visual surveys to estimate population sizes and structure. Captured turtles were marked, measured, sexed,and released. We examined age structure by using carapace length as an indicator of age and compared data from 1971/1972 to 2001/2002. We examined the effects of nest predation and road mortality using population models with Ramas Ecolab. Nest predation rates were estimated by locating turtle nests and monitoring them daily to determine what percent became predated. Average annual road mortality rates were estimated using 18 years of road mortality data. We captured a total of 1599 turtles of 5 species. Blanding's (Emydoidea blandingii) and snapping(Chelydra serpentina) turtles have experienced a clear shift towards larger size classes since 1972, which suggests juvenile recruitment into these populations is limited. Predation rates on nests ranged from 62.5% to 100% among areas. Road mortality models suggested that road mortality alone could cause population declines in Blanding's turtles but not likely in snapping and painted (Chrysemys picta) populations. However, high nest predation levels are a much more serious risk to these populations. Nest predation of 70% predicted serious declines in Blanding's populations but not snapping and painted populations. However, predation rates of 90% cannot be sustained by any species.

2005 Brennan Caverhill

Acadia University

Brennan (R) with Dave Cunnington
Title: Linking science and stewardship through public education with the Nova Scotia Blanding's turtle (Emydoidea blandingii)

Authors: Brennan Caverhill and Tom Herman

Abstract: The Nova Scotia (NS) Blanding's turtle population complex is small, disjunct, and subject to unique threats, which contribute to its nationally "Endangered" (COSEWIC) and provincially "Endangered" (NSESA) status designations. The NS complex provides a diverse array of conservation opportunities and mechanisms; of its three known populations, one occurs in a national park (Kejimkujik - KNP), one in a combined provincially and privatelyprotected area complex (McGowan Lake - ML), and one in a working landscape dominated by small private landholdings (Pleasant River - PR). Although habitat in KNP and ML are effectively protected from direct human disturbance, PR is not, which makes it an important target for public education and stewardship activities. We broadly define stewardship as an ownership of responsibility on the part of all members of the public (not justland owners), while public education includes not only formal presentations but also random field-encounters thatinvolve an information exchange between researchers and community members. Intensive research over the past four years (2002-2005) in Blanding's turtle habitat surrounding the rural community of Pleasant River has resulted in the convergence of science and stewardship, which has been facilitated by effective public education and outreach tactics. Providing education FOR the people has resulted in supportive stewardship action FROM the people, which has been invaluable to our science and management decisions in the area.

2006 Julie Lee-Yaw

McGill University

Julie with Bruce Pauli
Title: Evidence for cryptic lineages and range expansion from northern refugia in the Wood Frog, Rana sylvatica

Authors: Lee-Yaw, J.A*, J.T. Irwin*, and D.M. Green*

Abstract: Although the post-Pleistocene range dynamics of recolonizing amphibians in North America are increasingly better understood, recolonization of the most northern regions and the impact of southern refugia on patterns of genetic diversity in these regions are not well reconstructed. Here we present a phylogeographic history of the widespread and primarily northern, wood frog (Ranasylvatica). We surveyed 551 individuals from 116 localities across the species' range for a 650b.p. region of the NADH dehydrogenase subunit 2 and tRNATRP mitochondrial genes and anadditional 45 individuals for a 700 b.p. fragment of cytochrome b. Our phylogenetic analyses revealed three distinct clades corresponding to eastern, Maritime and western populations. Phylogeographic patterns within each of these clades were both similar and distinct from patternsfound in other species. Specifically, we find evidence to corroborate eastern refugia located in the southern Appalachians near present-day North and South Carolina and in the interior plains in thelower Ohio River Valley. Current Maritime populations appear to have been colonized from the coastal refugium. However, a more northern refugium located in the Appalachian highlands appears to have been source for most other northeastern wood frog populations. Rana sylvaticapopulations in the Great Lakes region all appear to have been derived from a western refugiumthat was likely located in present-day Wisconsin. This refugium also appears to have been sourcefor populations in the species' expansive northwestern range since we find no evidence to support additional, more western refugia.

2007 Jeffrey R. Row

Queen's University

Title: Genetic diversity and gene flow within and between Eastern Foxsnake (Elaphe gloydi) populations across Ontario.

Authors: Jeffrey R. Row*, Anna Lawson, Carrie A. Mackinnon, Ronald J. Brooks, and Stephen C. Lougheed

Abstract: Human activities, most notably habitat destruction, have led to the decline in size, number, and extent of populations for many species. As a consequence, many populations suffer from reduced genetic diversity, which can lower reproduction and survival rates and also may reduce the ability of populations to adapt to changes in the environment. Eastern foxsnakes are a globally threatened species with a very limited range, approximately 70% of which is contained within 3 regional populations (eastern shore of Georgian Bay, Essex County and Norfolk County) in Ontario. From 2003 to 2007 we acquired and collected > 600 blood samples from each of the 3 regional populations and ~10 local sub-populations. Using these blood samples and 15 hyper-variable microsatellite loci we determined that a significant portion of the genetic diversity was conserved within the regional populations (~25%) and within the local sub-populations (~15%). Contrary to our prediction, populations in the heavily fragmented Essex County had much higher levels of genetic diversity than populations in Georgian Bay and Norfolk County. All three regional populations were significantly differentiated (p < 0.001) and local subpopulations within Georgian Bay and Essex County were significantly differentiated at relatively fine scales (~ 50 km). Further research and analysis will identify landscape features that promote and or impede gene flow within and between populations and determine the scale at which populations are organized.

2008 Marie-Pier Prairie

McGill University

Title: Predicting recruitment success in amphibians in a forest remnant in southern Qu�bec.

Authors: Marie-Pier Prairie, David M. Green

Abstract: Estimates of amphibian abundance make an implicit assumption that the most easily observable individuals, usually breeding adults, correlates with breeding success, i.e. recruitment. We assessed how well the occurrence of metamorphosing individuals could be predicted from surveys of breeding adults, eggs or tadpoles. Surveys of calling adults, egg masses, dip-netting and funnel trapping surveys, and time-restricted searches, were performed at 24 breeding sites in a 467-hectare forest remnant in southern Qu�bec, Canada. Four pond-breeding amphibian species, Rana sylvatica, Ambystoma maculatum, Bufo americanus, and Pseudacris crucifer were studied in 2006 and 2007 in order to determine how well the occurrence of each stage of the life cycle predicts occurrence of the next. Jaccard's similarity indexes, contingency tables and logistic regression were used to evaluate which stage(s) were the most reliable indicators predicting recruitment success. The detected occurrence of calling or breeding adults was a very poor predictor for recruitment success, whereas the detection of eggs and tadpoles were sometimes included in the best logistic regression models predicting recruitment success although they did not contribute substantially to explain variance in the detection of metamorphs. Numbers of adults and egg masses found were variable among sites and between years, and were positively correlated only for wood frogs in 2006. Our results indicate that monitoring protocols for pond-breeding amphibians via calling surveys or egg mass countsmay be poor predictors of recruitment success and, therefore, of amphibian abundance at local scales.

2009 Megan L. Rasmussen

Laurentian University

Megan with Bruce Pauli
Title: Site fidelity, individuality and scale of habitat selection may complicate the designation of spotted turtle habitat in Ontario.

Authors: Megan L. Rasmussen* and Jacqueline D. Litzgus

Abstract: Designation of habitat for Species at Risk is an important step in the conservation of populations. This is especially true for species such as turtles whose extreme life histories do not allow them to respond quickly to recovery efforts. The Spotted Turtle (Clemmys guttata) is listed as Endangered in Canada. Spotted Turtles appear to be habitat generalists across their range, but specialists within each population. These factors complicate the creation of basic habitat assessment and protection guidelines, even over relatively small geographical areas. This study documents habitat selection and use of overwintering and nesting sites in a large population of Spotted Turtles on Lake Huron, Ontario. Individual turtles (N = 15) were located regularly from April 2007 until April 2009 using radio telemetry. Based on multi-scale compositional analyses, individuals selected habitats for their home range and within the home range, and the ranking of preferred habitat types depended on the scale of study. Seasonal shifts in habitat selection were observed. Despite shifting macrohabitat types, microhabitat use did not vary by season. Females were more likely to choose areas with more available cover from June - August compared to males. Nesting sites were variable, and females showed fidelity to substrate type rather than a specific location. Overwintering site choice was also variable, and most individuals showed high fidelity to an overwintering location. Up to 16 individuals were found within one overwintering site. Based on the results of this study, we suggest that microhabitat characteristics should be the focus when describing Spotted Turtle habitat. The variability and individuality apparent in habitat selection (especially nesting and overwintering sites) complicates the designation of Spotted Turtle habitat in populations that have not been intensively studied.

2001 Sara Ashpole

University of Guelph

Title: The effect of handling stress on deformity rate and hatching success in the Common Snapping Turtle, Chelydra serpentina serpentina, from Algonquin Provincial Park and Hamilton Harbour, Ontario Canada: do traditional laboratory incubation methods mirror naturally nesting populations?

Authors: Sara L. Ashpole, C.A. Bishop and R.J. Brooks

Abstract: Over the years, eco-toxicology field research conducted on snapping turtles has supported that both hatching success and deformity rates are sensitive biomarkers of persistent organic pollutants in the environment. In this study, we examined two sites with contrasting levels of contaminants, Hamilton Harbour (heavy industry with moderate to high levels of contaminants) and Algonquin Provincial Park (very low to non-detectable levels of contaminants) and the contribution of handling stress on embryo development. Handling stress can include: the physical removal of developing embryos from a maternally selected nest into an artificial environment; the transportation of embryos to the laboratory; and the incubation of embryos at a constant and very unnatural temperature. We hypothesise that if undisturbed naturally nested embryos develop in the same manner as those under laboratory conditions, then we would predict that their hatching success and deformity rates to be the same. To test this, our study was designed to compare undisturbed predator-protected natural nests with artificially incubated embryos. From both study sites, nests were either undisturbed and protected (N=10, Hamilton Harbour; N=7, Algonquin Park) or collected (N=15 from each site). One-third of collected clutch was redistributed into the following treatments: a predator protected artificial buried nest; and artificial incubation at both a male- and female-producing temperature, 25.0�C or 29.5�C respectively. Comparisons between treatments and the study sites are in progress and will be discussed at the conference.

2010 Marchell G. Coulombe

Biology Department, Acadia University

Title: Conservation genetics of the wood turtle (Glyptemys insculpta) at the north-eastern limit of its range.

Authors: Marchell G. Coulombe, Steve Mockford, Tom B. Herman.

Abstract: Within conservation biology, there is increasing impetus for genetic analyses in species conservation and management. Population genetics are often used to resolve taxonomic uncertainties and relationships within threatened populations and to detect declines in genetic diversity, especially within fragmented populations. The wood turtle (Glyptemys insculpta) is a vulnerable species occupying a disjunct range throughout north-eastern North America. Wood turtles face a diversity of threats, primarily due to habitat loss, and recent studies indicate wood turtle populations are experiencing a steady decline. Although wood turtles have been well described in other jurisdictions, little is known about wood turtle ecology in Nova Scotia, Canada. The wood turtle is one of four indigenous freshwater turtle species found in Nova Scotia, and is generally well distributed throughout the province. While a number of field studies have focused on describing wood turtle ecology, relatively no information exists on the population genetics of this species. The goal of this study is to describe the genetic population structure of the wood turtle in Nova Scotia, at the north-eastern limit of the species' range.

2003 Sara L. Ashpole

Title: Assessment of pesticide exposure and effect in amphibians using agricultural habitat, South Okanagan, British Columbia

Authors: Sara L. Ashpole, Christine A. Bishop, John Elliott and Laurie Wilson

Abstract: Many species of amphibians are the subject of serious conservation concern in Canada and elsewhere due to habitat loss and exposure to other anthropogenic stressors especially pesticide exposure. The Okanagan valley in BC is an intensive agricultural area where 80% of the natural wetlands and riparian areas have been developed. Yet due to the southerly location of this area, it also supports abundant and diverse amphibian populations that are known to use ponds and irrigated areas in agricultural lands. In the Okanagan valley, nationally endangered species (Tiger Salamander, Ambystoma tigrinum), threatened species (Great Basin Spade Foot Toad, Spea intermontana), and species of special concern (Western Toad Bufo boreas) still occur. Furthermore, the Northern Leopard Frog (Rana pipiens) has been extirpated from the South Okanagan for no known reason. Due to the presence of many rare species and the high potential for exposure to pesticides and the lack of natural habitat, it is necessary to assess the risk of amphibian populations to the impact of pesticides. In 2003, twenty-four ponds were surveyed for breeding adults and larval productivity to determine relative population densities. Habitat assessment, water chemistry, and sediment sampling was conducted at each site. All moribund and road-killed amphibians found in agricultural areas are to be analyzed for pesticides.

2011 James E. Paterson

Laurentian University

Pamela Rutherford with James
Title: Hatchling habitat selection and survivorship in two sympatric turtle species (Glyptemys insculpta and Emydoidea blandingii)

Authors: James E. Paterson, Brad Steinberg, and Jacqueline D. Litzgus

Abstract: The small size, soft shell, and limited mobility of hatchling turtles may cause differences in susceptibility to predation and habitat selection as compared to adults of the same species. However, until recently, technological limitations and the cryptic nature of hatchling turtles have constrained our understanding of their ecology. We studied survivorship, behaviour, and habitat selection of 45 hatchling Blanding's turtles (Emydoidea blandingii) and 48 hatchling wood turtles (Glyptemys insculpta) from emergence to overwintering in 2009 and 2010 using radio telemetry in Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario. Turtles were captured as they emerged from caged nests in the fall, outfitted with radio-transmitters, and tracked every 1-3 days until they died or until October when all living hatchlings were at overwintering sites. Habitat selection was studied at two spatial scales: coarse scale macrohabitat selection and fine-scale microhabitat selection. The mortality rate was high with 42 % of E. blandingii, and only 11 % of G. insculpta surviving to winter. Both species showed evidence of macrohabitat selection and used habitats surrounding nests non-randomly. Based on paired logistic regression models, both species also showed evidence of microhabitat selection, and important variables in the models differed between species. Hatchling G. insculpta were more likely to select microhabitats with cooler temperatures and less leaf litter, whereas E. blandingii were more likely to use sites with more groundcover and woody vegetation. These data suggest that post-emergent hatchlings select habitat as they disperse from nests. Hatchling habitat preferences need to be considered in recovery and management plans for these species at risk.

2012 Christina Davy

University of Toronto

Title: Genotypes and ghosts - comparative landscape genetics of a northern turtle community

Authors: Christina M. Davy and Robert W. Murphy

Abstract: Conservation and landscape genetics analyses of reptiles often assume that related species will respond to factors which can influence their genetic structure (for example, population fragmentation) in a similar way. There are many conservation genetics studies of individual snake, lizard or turtle species, but data from multiple species are not often integrated. We use landscape genetics analyses to investigate variation in genetic population structure among three turtle species with differing behaviours, life history strategies and degrees of endangerment and population fragmentation. Using microsatellite genotype data from Spotted Turtles, Blanding's Turtles and Snapping Turtles we test hypotheses about the genetic effects of population fragmentation on these three species. We also use standard landscape genetic analyses to test hypotheses about the relative influence that major landscape features in southern Ontario have had on the population structure of each species and discuss important similarities and differences between them.

2013 James Baxter-Gilbert

Laurentian University

Title: Where claws meet asphalt: using a novel technique to measure corticosterone in toe-nails to examine stress levels in Painted Turtles (Chrysemys picta) living around a major highway.

Authors: James H. Baxter-Gilbert, Julia L. Riley, Gabriela F. Mastromonaco, David Lesbarrères and Jacqueline D. Litzgus

Abstract: As the field of road ecology expands, our understanding of the various negative effects roads pose to reptile populations is greatly increasing. Road mortality and fragmentation have received much attention; yet more research is needed to understand the indirect effects of roads on wildlife populations. Our study examined the levels of chronic physiological stress in turtles living around a major highway in central Ontario. Physiological stress has been observed to lower immune function, and can affect reproductive rates and life expectancy in many reptile species. Using claw samples from painted turtles (Chrysemys picta) found at a site impacted by the road and at a control site further away from road disturbance, we extracted corticosterone, a known biomarker for physiological stress. Measuring corticosterone from claws provided an account of chronic stress levels in these turtles as corticosterone is slowly deposited over the long-term into the claw as they grow. As compared to traditional methods of measuring corticosterone, like sampling blood or faeces, our novel method is minimally invasive, presents less risk of altering the sample, and sample collection requires far less effort. This method thus provides an avenue for examining chronic physiological stress in turtles, which can be applied to examining indirect, population-level effects, of roads and other anthropogenic disturbances.

2014 Patrick Moldowan

Laurentian University

Title: Courtship of coercion? Testing for a novel mating strategy in the midland Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta marginata)

Authors: Patrick D. Moldowan, Ronald J. Brooks and Jacqueline D. Litzgus

Abstract: The mating strategy of the Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta) is well recognized as involving an elaborate male courtship display coupled with female mate choice. During breeding, male C. picta demonstrate a stereotyped titillation sequence including the stroking of the head and anterior carapace of a female with elongate fore claws. Traditionally it is thought that female C. picta choose mates on the basis of courtship display and/or traits that demonstrate male quality. In situ field observations and experimental trials from a long-term study of C. picta in Algonquin Provincial Park (Ontario, Canada) suggest that males also demonstrate an alternative, coercive mating strategy. Males are equipped with prominent tomiodonts, tooth-like cusps of the upper jaw, which seemingly function in immobilizing mates and result in extensive wounding to the head and neck of females. Over 100 hours of video recordings from experimental trials during the spring and fall (2013) breeding periods will be summarized. The courtship and pre-copulatory behaviors of males, including titillation, chasing, biting, and the forced submergence of females, were quantified. We describe shell clattering, a frontal ramming of the shell, as a novel apparent reproductive behaviour in C. picta. The biological explanations for multiple reproductive strategies will be discussed. We propose that male C. picta exhibit sexual weapons in the form of tomiodonts used in mate coercion and challenge the notion that sexual coercion is unlikely in open-water and free-swimming freshwater turtles. As a group with a rich evolutionary history, turtles are a fascinating taxon in which to ask and address questions about mating system evolution.

2015 Brandon Varela

Laurentian University

Title: Inter-site variation in the skin microbiome of Northern Leopard Frogs (Lithobates pipiens)

Authors: Brandon J. Varela, Kirsten McMillan, Nadia Mykytczuk and David Lesbarrères

Abstract: Over the last forty years, amphibians have been declining due to climate change, habitat loss and emerging infectious diseases (EID). One of the main EID, chytridiomycosis is caused by the fungal pathogen Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd) that grows within the skin of amphibians. However, certain bacteria taxa producing compounds that have been found to deter Bd infection are present on the amphibian skin, acting as a protective barrier against EID. Understanding the role that the skin microbiome plays in disease dynamics is therefore critical when assessing variation in Bd prevalence among amphibian populations. Even though the Northern Leopard Frog (Lithobates pipiens) is not considered as a Species at Risk in Ontario, this species is experiencing a Canada-wide decline. The main hypothesis for this decline is linked to EID. In our study, we sampled L. pipiens (n= 38) from eight sites in Southern Ontario and characterized the frogs' skin microbiome using 454 sequencing to assess the relationship between microbiome composition and environmental characteristics of the sites. This unique study creates the foundations that will enable us to further understand which bacteria taxa may be protecting Canadian amphibians against EID.

2016 Kelsey Marchand

University of Regina

Title: Urban habitat selection and resource use of Western Painted Turtles near the northern limit of the species range

Authors: Kelsey A. Marchand, Christopher M. Somers and Ray G. Poulin

Abstract: Reptiles in Saskatchewan live on the edge; the environment is extreme, and the anthropogenic influence on their habitat is extensive. The western painted turtle (Chrysemys picta bellii) is one of the most widely distributed subspecies of the painted turtle in North America, reaching the northern limit of its natural range in western Canada. In the western provinces, populations are in decline largely due to habitat fragmentation and road mortality. In Saskatchewan, they are not considered at risk of extinction however, little is known about the ecology or population biology of the species. Over two years, we are conducting a study on turtles living in Regina's Wascana Marsh to begin to understand the habitats and resources required to survive in this urban environment. The primary goals of the project are to determine population size and demography, home range size, habitat use, and resource use of the population throughout the active season. This will be accomplished through a mark-recapture study, radio-telemetry, and stable isotopes analyses. During 2015 we processed 61 turtles (4 juveniles, 38 females, 19 males) and 25 (18 females, 7 males) were outfitted with radio transmitters, one of which a female with a carapace length of 266 mm, the largest on record. We found that overall, females had larger home range sizes across the active season than the males, and both exhibited shifts in habitat preferences. Stable isotope analyses showed a variance in isotopic values between sexes, which will be examined further during summer 2016. Our work will continue to provide information on important aspects of the ecology of western painted turtles in the province of Saskatchewan.

2018 Stephanie Winton

Thompson Rivers University

Title: Impacts of Road Mortality on Population Persistence of the Western Rattlesnake (Crotalus organus) in British Columbia

Authors: Stephanie A. Winton, Richard Taylor, Christine A. Bishop and Karl W. Larsen

Abstract: The direct consequences of wildlife-vehicle collisions are quite evident. However, effects of road mortality on wildlife populations over time are relatively difficult to discern and a fundamental understanding of these impacts is particularly critical for the conservation of species-at-risk. Using population viability analysis (PVA) we evaluated the persistence of a Western Rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus) population threatened by road mortality in the dry interior of British Columbia, Canada. We quantified road mortality through methodical road surveys and assessments of scavenging rates and observer detection probability using planted snake carcasses. Our calculation of the road mortality rate (0.06/km/day), which accounts for scavenger-removal and observer error during walking surveys, showed that the estimated number of rattlesnake deaths was 2.7x the number of carcasses detected through unadjusted surveys and incidental observations. Additionally, we conducted intensive mark-recapture and radio-telemetry to estimate population density, size, and home range. Overall, an estimated 6.6% of the population was killed on the road annually. The PVA indicated the population was declining under this observed road mortality rate while any simulated road mortality rates of >6% put the population at risk of extinction over 100 years. Our results also suggest that improving adult female survival as well as overall longevity of rattlesnakes, in theory, would significantly increase the population growth rate. This detailed PVA using refined road mortality estimates provides strong evidence that road mortality is a significant contributor to population decline, and it is possible that large populations of long-lived species will face extirpation due to low levels of road mortality even in the absence of other sources of disturbance. Conservation priorities should focus on reducing road mortality and improving critical habitat availability away from roads.

2017 Damien Mullin

Laurentian University

Title: Comparison of behaviour, growth rates, and survivorship among three cohorts of headstarted Wood Turtles (Glyptemys insculpta) post-release.

Authors: Damien I. Mullin, Rachel C. White, Jory L. Mullen and Jacqueline D. Litzgus

Abstract: Abstract: A population of endangered Wood Turtles (Glyptemys insculpta) has been augmented by an intensive headstarting program for 14 years. By definition, headstarted turtles have a larger body size compared to non-headstarted wild turtles, which should increase survivorship of headstarted turtles (i.e. “bigger is better” hypothesis). Our goal was to quantitatively test the assumption of “bigger is better” by comparing growth rates and survivorship of three groups of turtles: (1) 15 turtles headstarted for 2 years (C-2014), (2) 15 turtles headstarted for 1 year (C-2015), and (3) 15 turtles hatched in captivity then released (i.e. no headstarting; C-2016). We measured somatic growth rates of headstarted turtles while in captivity, and then all three cohorts of turtles were radio-tracked weekly during the active season and monthly during the winter to monitor movements, growth, and survivorship in the wild post-release. C-2014s and C-2015s were tracked for one year, from June 2016 until June 2017. C-2016s hatched in late July 2016, were released on 2 August 2016, and tracked for one month. Home range sizes differed significantly among cohorts (H=28.65, df=2, p<0.001), with the largest turtles having the largest home ranges. The non-headstarted C-2016s had the smallest home ranges (0.006 ha); mean home range size for C-2015s was 1.28 ha; and for C-2014s was 4.45 ha. All cohorts exhibited positive growth post-release from captivity. C-2016s had 73% confirmed survivorship during their one month of tracking in late summer, and two of these turtles were confirmed to have survived the winter. C-2014s had 73% confirmed survivorship and C-2015s had 33% confirmed survivorship, indicating that two years of headstarting provides a survivorship advantage over one year of headstarting. Given the growing number of turtle headstarting projects globally, our study will provide data that can aid in improving the practice.

2019 Katie A. Ellsworth

Laurentian University

Title: Knowledge and opinions of turtle road mortality mitigation efforts on Hwy 69, Ontario

Authors: Katie A. Ellsworth, Chantal Barriault and Jacqueline D. Litzgus

Abstract: Road mortality presents one of the greatest threats to turtles, but properly constructed and installed mitigation structures have been shown to reduce this threat. All eight of Ontario’s turtle species are classified as ‘Species At Risk’ (SAR) and six of those species are found along Hwy 69 between Sudbury and Parry Sound, Ontario. A previous study showed that the mitigation structures on Hwy 69 were not effectively preventing turtle road mortality and that, specifically, the exclusion fencing needs improvements. Research has shown that public support can be instrumental in funding such projects, but it is unclear who is responsible for this funding. We investigated the current level of knowledge and support for road mortality mitigation among residents of the Greater City of Sudbury using an online survey distributed through Facebook. We collected 263 responses that included knowledge about road mortality mitigation and its importance for turtles at risk, as well as opinions about how funding for mitigation should be achieved (particularly using tax dollars). Questions were divided into 3 sections: 1) general information about species-at-risk, 2) turtle-specific information, and 3) road mortality mitigation. A final section collected respondent demographics. Questions collected a combination of quantitative and qualitative data to provide insight into respondents’ reasoning for answers, allowing us to make connections among knowledge levels, opinions, and demographic groups. Preliminary analysis has revealed that over 85% of respondents know what mitigation structures are for (despite less than 33% knowing the phrase ‘road mortality mitigation’), and the majority support increased road mortality mitigation along Hwy 69. Additionally, over 80% of respondents know that turtle populations are declining and give high priority to SAR conservation. Establishing a baseline of knowledge and opinions on the subject of turtle road mortality mitigation will help guide any future research, outreach, and campaigns around Sudbury.

2020 Jessica Leivesley

University of Toronto

Title: Parental provisioning and fluctuating thermal regimes enhance immune response in a reptile with temperature-dependent sex determination.

Authors: Jessica A. Leivesley and Njal Rollinson

Abstract: Neonate immune response is a key predictor of early-life fitness as it provides first-line defence against invading pathogens. Theory suggests that mothers may influence offspring immunity through provisioning offspring with greater energetic reserves, facilitating immune response; however, any effect of provisioning on immunity is unresolved, as post-hatching parental care has obscured relationships between provisioning per se and immunity. Here we test for an association between provisioning and immunity while manipulating neonate sex and incubation environment in a reptile with no parental care. We find that maternal provisioning is positively associated with bactericidal capacity of offspring blood. We also find that neonate sex has no influence on bactericidal capacity, but that fluctuating incubation temperature (i.e., a more naturalized incubation regime) was associated with a greater bactericidal capacity compared to constant temperature incubation. Our study clarifies that maternal provisioning per se is associated with immune response, while questioning the relevance of constant temperature incubation in experimental studies on ectotherm development. Our findings also suggest that the evolution of temperature-dependent sex determination in reptiles is unrelated to early-life immunity.

2021 Kyle Vincent

Laurentian University

Title: Weaving indigenous knowledge and western science to investigate the impacts of railways on wildlife

Authors: Kyle Vincent, Jacqueline D. Litzgus, Cory L. Kozmik, Steven J. Kell and Jesse N. Popp

Abstract: Railways have been documented to cause mortalities for many different species, most commonly a result of wildlife-train collisions. Railway-related mortality can lead to population declines, but the ecological impacts of railways are understudied. Most research on wildlife-train collisions has focused on large mammals but understanding railway-specific risks for under-represented taxa, especially vulnerable species, is important for developing effective mitigation strategies. We aim to fill knowledge gaps using a two-eyed seeing approach that weaves Indigenous knowledge and Western science to investigate wildlife interactions with railways. We initiated this project based on concerns from First Nations communities about wildlife mortalities on railways, particularly species at risk. To inform study design, we invited community members to share knowledge concerning wildlife-railway impacts in individual interviews. We then conducted weekly visual surveys over three field seasons along two 3.5 km sections of railway in Eastern Georgian Bay, recording the locations of all wildlife observed alive or dead. In total we recorded 332 observations of individuals from 39 different species, of which 73% were found dead, and 27% were encountered alive, findings corroborated by shared Indigenous Knowledge. Reptiles and amphibians were the most severely impacted taxa, accounting for 87% of observed mortalities. We observed seven different at-risk species interacting with the railway, of which individuals from three at-risk turtle species and one at-risk snake species were found dead on the tracks. These preliminary results highlight the value of using multiple knowledge systems in ecological research and indicate some taxa such as reptiles and amphibians may be more susceptible to railway mortality. The next stage of our project aims to identify mortality hotspots and determine if landscape or habitat features contribute to the location or frequency of railway mortalities, information critical to developing effective railway impact mitigation.

2022 Madelaine Empey

University of Ottawa

Category: Best in-person 15-minute presentation

Title: Invertebrate and vertebrate species sensitivity distribution for insecticides derived from insecticidal toxins of Bacillus thuringiensis

Authors: Madelaine A. Empey, Monica Y. Reyes, and Vance L. Trudeau

Abstract: Information on how insecticides containing toxic proteins from Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) affect non-target organisms is largely unknown. Effects on Canadian species have also been undetermined despite the wide application of Bt insecticides. Acute toxicity tests (96-h LC50 estimates) of Bt israelensis (VectoBac 200G®, potency of 200 ITU/L) on northern leopard frog (Lithobates pipiens) and chorus frog (Pseudacris maculata) tadpoles were conducted. The median lethal concentration of these species were 75 500 and 70 560 ITU/L, respectively. These LC50 values were compared to others using Species Sensitivity Distribution (SSD) curves constructed from median lethal concentrations of Bt insecticides (International Toxicity units for spp. israelensis, kurstaki, and sphaericus) obtained from published peer-reviewed literature. LC50 estimated for anurans is approximately 400 times higher than for certain target species such as the mosquito, Aedes aegypti. It was found that some non-target Dipterans and Lepidopterans may be at risk. Canadian anurans were found to be more tolerant than South American counterparts. There are large gaps in data regarding the susceptibility of fish, amphibians, and mammals. The use of SSDs is important to assess which organisms are most at risk, and how to mitigate possible ecological effects in habitats in which these agents are applied. Funding: City of Ottawa, University of Ottawa Research Chair in Neuroendocrinology (VLT).

2022 Jenna Kentel

Laurentian University

Category: Best in-person 5-minute presentation

Title: A rocky solution: Evaluating the use of common construction materials as road effect mitigation for turtle communities in a rock barren landscape

Authors: Jenna L. Kentel, Tianna Burke, Steven Kell, and Jacqueline D. Litzgus

Abstract: Roads create an ecological trap for female turtles during nesting forays because exposed road shoulders are attractive nesting habitats despite the risk to female turtles’ fitness. While the viability of turtle populations is dependent on the survivorship of reproductive females, few cost-effective mitigation strategies directly address their vulnerability to roads. Here, we evaluated a new mitigation strategy that aimed to deter female turtles from nesting in unsafe road-side habitat. This mitigation design made use of routine road maintenance to replace exposed gravel on road embankments with rock rip-rap and paved road shoulders. Nesting survey data collected over three consecutive years (2020-22) was used to determine if this mitigation strategy deters females from nesting on the road. We evaluated the effectiveness of this mitigation strategy in the context of the local turtle population, using a rigorous mark-recapture study to quantify abundance and a before-after comparison. Across all 3 study species, the number of nests on the road were similar in the before (n=133) and after (n=138) periods of the study. Turtles did not nest in road sections with rip-rap; however, turtles continued to gain road access to nest in the nearest available road-side habitat. Turtles may still be nesting on the road because naturally occurring nesting habitat is limited in the surrounding rock barren landscape; therefore, we assessed the availability of nesting habitat based on soil depth and canopy openness by conducting habitat transects around nesting hotspots on the road. Our study contributes to the limited literature that quantifies the efficacy of road-effect mitigation strategies at the population level.

2022 Nathalie Jreidini

McGill University

Category: Best virtual 15-minute presentation

Title: Artificial displacement alters movement behavior of a terrestrial amphibian

Authors: Nathalie Jreidini and David M. Green

Abstract: Homing abilities have been widely documented in amphibians, but it remains unclear whether individuals have homing tendencies in the absence of motivational cues related to breeding and site fidelity. We tested whether artificial displacement would impact the movement behavior of a non-philopatric terrestrial amphibian, the Fowler’s Toad (Anaxyrus fowleri), within its home range and after its breeding season had ended. We translocated 65 male and female Fowler’s Toads from their initial points of capture a total of 104 times over one of three different distances (100 m, 250 m, and 500 m) and compared these toads’ subsequent 24-h movements to those of a control group of 43 un-translocated toads. To shield the translocated toads from auditory, visual, and olfactory cues en route, we translocated them in opaque enclosed boxes and performed the experiment in the uniformly unobstructed landscape of the Lake Erie shoreline of Long Point, Ontario. We mainly investigated directionality bias as the orientation between control and translocated groups, homing tendency as the correlation between movements post-translocation and translocation distance, and homing accuracy as the variation in distance between final and initial capture points. Our results provide clear evidence that translocation changes the movement behavior of these toads and that they possess homing tendencies outside of their breeding season. Toads had a strong directional bias to move in the opposite direction to the one they were artificially displaced, in contrast with the control group which showed no directional bias among 61 recorded 24-h movements. This tendency for amphibians to home following artificial displacement might be a significant confounding factor in any procedure involving their relocation.

2022 Morgan Skinner

Wilfrid Laurier University

Category: Best virtual 5-minute presentation

Title: Butler’s gartersnake communities have female leaders

Authors: Morgan Skinner, Megan Hazell, Joel Jameson, and Stephen C. Lougheed

Abstract: Animal social groups can often be divided into subgroups of individuals that tend to interact with each other. In the social science literature, these subgroups are often referred to as communities. In some animal groups, there are sex and age differences in community integration where individuals can emerge as highly central to their community. Most of what is known about differences in community centrality comes from research done on highly social mammals. Due to challenges in observation, and arguably the largely untested assumption that they are non-social, much less is known about community structure in snakes. To investigate the community structure of snake groups, we constructed social networks from the observed and inferred social interactions that occurred among Butler’s gartersnakes (Thamnophis butleri) during an 11-year mark-and-recapture project. Based on recent laboratory work showing sex and size differences in gartersnake sociability, we hypothesized that large females might be central to their communities within the social networks. To test this hypothesis, we identified the smaller communities that existed within the larger networks and looked for sex and weight differences in the individuals that emerged as community ‘leaders’ (i.e., had high community centrality). We found that heavier-bodied individuals were more likely to be central to communities, and that females had higher community centrality than males. Understanding social interactions and intraspecies community structure can have important implications for conservation. For example, community leaders can provide valuable information about food and shelter locations to other group members, and the importance of such individuals should be considered when modifying, bolstering, or translocating populations.