Wildlife Research Station

  Algonquin Provincial Park  

Past Research


Below you will find descriptions of a few research projects that were conducted at the WRS. For more project descriptions, please see the

Research Reports




The Effects of Two Experimental Harvesting Regimes on Hoverflies (Diptera: Syrphidae) in the Hardwood Forests of Algonquin Provincial Park


Eleanor Proctor, BSc candidate, Trent University
Supervisor: Erica Nol



For my undergraduate thesis I am analyzing the hoverfly community in hardwood stands that have undergone two types of experimental harvesting regimes.  As adults, hoverflies feed on nectar and pollen, and the abundance of hoverflies (and other insect pollinators) has been shown to increase after timber harvest.  In this study, both experimental harvesting regimes have opened up the forest canopy, but I am interested in how the pattern and amount of harvest affects the hoverfly community make-up. 


Malaise traps, which are designed to intercept aerial insects, were set up in the canopy-gaps and in the adjacent forested matrices in hardwood stands that were harvested the previous winter.  I will compare the abundance and diversity of the hoverflies from the harvested stands as a whole, but also between the gaps and between the matrices of the two different regimes.



If the hoverfly community in the two types of harvesting regimes differ (suggesting more than just the increase in light affects these flies), pollination of the floral understory, and thus succession, could be strikingly different in the stands.




Effects of Single-Tree Selection Silviculture on Ovenbird, Seiurus aurocapillus, Demographics in a Contiguous Eastern Deciduous Forest in South-Central Ontario


J. P. Leblanc, MSc candidate, Trent University 
Supervisors: Erica Nol and Dawn Burke (OMNR)


ob This project is looking at what effects single-tree selection silviculture in Algonquin Provincial Park have on the nesting success and other demographic parameters of a ground nesting songbird, the Ovenbird (Seiurus aurocapillus).  This is part of a larger program examining effects of forestry in Algonquin on birds and their invertebrate prey. This project is unique in that I am using small digital video cameras hidden near Ovenbird nests to record their daily movements to and from the nest, both during incubation and the nest rearing stage. The lengths of the recordings vary from a few hours to nearly two and half days of continuous footage.  I am hoping to compare nest success, feeding rates, and incubation efficiency between 4 different forest age classes, and how these behavioural and demographic parameters change as a forest regenerates after being harvested.  These forest age classes correspond to the age of the forest since it was last harvested.  They range from those harvested 5 or fewer years ago to forest stands that have not been harvested for over forty years.


The ultimate goal of this project is to examine how an interior nesting species is affected and recovers from single-tree selection silviculture.  With a very specific nest-site preference (interior forest), Ovenbirds might be considered an indicator species to the health of the forest interior. This is one species that did not appear to recover its numbers to those present in undisturbed forests in a previous study, even after 19 years of regeneration. Therefore, if changes in Ovenbird behavior or nest success are observed they may indicate a change in the forest’s composition that could have greater effects on other interior forest species.  The practical applications of this study will include conservation biology (as song bird populations are in decline) and assessing the sustainability of forestry practices.  By determining the effects of single-tree selection silviculture on breeding Ovenbirds, we can determine if this harvest practice mimics natural disturbances and suggest the need for refinements to this practice if deemed necessary.  By mimicking natural disturbances in this continuous forest, forestry can become more sustainable while Algonquin Park can act as a source population for declining songbird populations.







Flying Squirrel (Glaucomys sabrinus and G. volans) Habitat Use and Ecology in Landscapes Managed with Partial Harvesting Silviculture in Central Ontario


Holloway, Gillian Lynn. 2006.  Doctor of Philosophy, Faculty of Forestry, University of Toronto. 
Supervisor:  Jay Malcolm



Northern and southern flying squirrels are used as indicator species of sustainable forest management in many regions of North America, including Ontario.  However, little is known about flying squirrel ecology or the impacts of partial harvesting on their populations in northeastern North America.  I investigated flying squirrel habitat use at multiple spatial scales in both logged and unlogged forests through live-trapping and radio-telemetry.  Live-trapping data was used to develop habitat models at the stand and landscape scale for both flying squirrel species, and additionally for red squirrels and eastern chipmunks.  I also conducted dietary analyses for all sympatric tree squirrel species, and investigated flying squirrel nest use, home range size, and resource selection within home ranges with radio‑telemetry.  Northern flying squirrel densities were significantly lower on shelterwood harvested stands compared with unharvested pine stands, which appears to be a consequence of significantly lower densities of large snags, spruce and hardwood trees, and lower understory stem densities on shelterwood cuts.  Large hardwood snags were a key nesting substrate for northern flying squirrels.  Spruce may be a crucial resource to northern flying squirrels; it is the primary host tree of the mycorrhizal hypogeous fungi which dominated their diet, and northern flying squirrel density and habitat use was associated with spruce tree density at multiple spatial scales.  This study supports past research indicating that northern flying squirrels are associates of mature and old forests (90+ years old).  Additionally, the results support the continued use of northern flying squirrels as indicator species of structurally diverse conifer and mixedwood forests. 

s In contrast to northern flying squirrels, southern flying squirrels demonstrated little evidence of a negative response to partial harvesting.  This species seems to tolerate lower snag densities in recent selection cuts by nesting in abandoned yellow-bellied sapsucker cavities in live trees.  Yellow-bellied sapsuckers typically excavate nests in live trees rather than in dead trees, and the occurrence of their nests in selection cuts may be a key resource, allowing southern flying squirrels to exist  in harvested areas.  The availability of hard and soft mast had a significant influence on southern flying squirrel density at the landscape scale, and on habitat use within home ranges.  Southern flying squirrels had a diverse diet in central Ontario (fungi, pollen, seeds, and insects).  In order to obtain these varied food resources, this species was active in uncut stands at night in areas with higher tree species diversity than random sites.  In selection cuts, southern flying squirrel occurrence was best predicted by high abundance of soft-mast producing shrubs, suggesting high food availability is the reason this species is present in cuts despite higher predation risk.  In Ontario, given southern flying squirrels flexible habitat use, and cyclic populations, it may not be an appropriate indicator species for mature hardwood forests.


For contact information or to learn more about my research please visit the  Malcolm Lab website.

  Feminization of Mermithid-infected Black Flies  
  Amy Sharp, MSc, Brock University 
Advisor: F.F. Hunter 

I am currently examining the role mermithid nematodes (Nematoda: Mermithidae) play in the feminization of genetically male black flies (Diptera: Simuliidae). Mermithids were once studied as potential biological control vectors against black fly populations, with hopes of potentially controlling outbreaks of disease such as River Blindness.


Mermithids infect black fly larvae and reside in the host gut until completion of their parasitic stage, after which the nematodes emerge from the larval or pupal host; while others emerge once the host has undergone pupation and emerged as an adult fly. Such nematode infections that carry through to the adult phase result in either complete feminization of the host or intersexes and gynandromorphy. The proximate cause for such sexual alteration remains unknown.




I am using morphological, behavioural and molecular analysis to analyze the nematodes and feminized black flies. My aim is to determine what is initiating the sexual alterations in the mermithid-infected flies, potentially uncovering a new avenue of biological control against infectious diseases spread by mermithid nematodes and Simuliidae. 






  Behaviour, Ecology, and Evolution of Tadpoles
  PI: Jean Richardson
MSc Student: Candice Kerling, Brock University
4th Year Honour's Student: Tricia van Blyderveen, Brock University
  All wildlife must balance conflicting demands and our research is focused on understanding how tadpoles balance the trade-off between avoiding predators and finding enough food to eat. The trade-off works like this: 1. The more a tadpole swims around, the more food it can find and consume (tadpoles of the frog species found in Algonquin are generalist herbivores, eating mostly algae and not being very particular about the type of algae). Tadpoles that eat more can develop faster and metamorphose at a larger size (which, in turn, is beneficial as an adult). 2. The more a tadpole swims around, the more likely it is to encounter and be detected by a predator, leading to increased probability of death by predator. So, tadpoles (and most organisms) must find some balance point between getting enough food (essential for survival) and avoiding predators (also essential for survival).

We are using the tadpoles of wood frogs (Rana sylvatica), found in abundance at populations around WRS, to consider a couple of different aspects of this general problem. Candice Kerling (an M.Sc. student at Brock University) is studying just how effective reducing activity levels in the presence of a predator is in decreasing predation rates. It is well known that tadpoles of many species do reduce activity levels in the presence of predators, but it is less clear whether this actually works to reduce predation risk. She is using two different invertebrate predators in her experiments - dragonfly larvae (Anax junius) and backswimmers (Notonectidae) - to compare the activity levels of tadpoles when no predator is present, in the non-lethal presence of a predator (predators are inside a cage), and when a predator that can attack tadpoles is present (the condition tadpoles face in the wild). Since wood frog tadpoles are typically found in groups, she is doing further studies to consider whether an inactive tadpole hanging out too near to an active tadpole has an increased predation risk.




A second aspect we are considering is the role of genetics in influencing the behavioural response of tadpoles to predator presence. We can start by asking simply whether siblings are generally more similar to each other in activity level than to other non-siblings. For example, perhaps all siblings sharing one set of parents are very active all the time, while the siblings from another set of parents are very inactive all the time. We can also ask whether the way in which an individual responds to a predator presence is genetically determined. For example, do siblings in one family decrease activity from always active to always inactive whenever a predator is present, while siblings from another family keep the same activity level whether a predator is present or absent? This ability to change behaviour when a predator is present is called plasticity, and understanding the relative role of genetics and environment in behavioural plasticity will allow us to better predict the ability of tadpoles to persist in changing habitat types. 

One of the reasons that wood frog tadpoles are ideal for studying genetic effects is that they are explosive breeders - laying hundreds or even thousands of egg masses in large communal groups, as seen below in a picture taken at Bat Lake. The picture to the right shows things further along - you can see newly hatched tadpoles on top of the egg masses. (Photos by C. Kerling.) 


All of the work we do has the broader goal of gaining insight into why species can use some habitats and not others. A particularly pertinent question in frogs these days in light of the global decline in amphibian species. 














Seasonal habitat associations of American martens (Martes americana) in central Ontario


Paul Gelok, M.Sc.F., University of Toronto
Advisors: Jay Malcolm and Justina Ray


Habitat quality for American martens (Martes americana) has been associated with mature coniferous forests, complex forest structure, unharvested forests, and unfragmented landscapes, but the relative importance of these attributes are unclear.  I used snow tracking and track plate surveys to sample marten habitat use during the winters and summers of 2002 and 2003 in central Ontario. 


Summer habitat use was related to landscape composition, with important variables including the abundance of mature and mixed wood forests, and patches of low canopy closure.  At the local scale, summer habitat use was associated with relatively low basal area.  During the winter, habitat use was described by track abundances of prey species and relatively high basal area.  Highly used winter landscapes included patches of high basal area and lacked mixed wood forests.


In general, highly used habitats were unrelated to forest type and silvicultural history, but changed seasonally, which has implications for the local management of marten habitat.


To learn more about my research please visit the Malcolm lab website.



Last Updated: March 25, 2014

Wildlife Research Station, P.O. Box 49 Whitney Ontario, K0J 2M0, Canada

Telephone: (705) 633 - 5621 E-mail: wrs@vianet.ca


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