Honors Program

Midway Honors

Date of Award


Thesis Professor(s)

Foster Levy

Thesis Professor Department

Biological Sciences

Thesis Reader(s)

Aruba Kilaru, Timothy McDowell


Piratebush (Buckleya distichophylla (Nutt.) Torr.) is a rare, hemiparasitic shrub with the only extant populations in western North Carolina, northeastern Tennessee, and southwestern Virginia. The preferred natural hosts of piratebush, Carolina and eastern hemlocks, have seen sharp declines over the last decade due to the invasive hemlock woolly adelgid. Virginia pine, another important host of piratebush, is also susceptible to disease, specifically Cronartium appalachianum, a rust fungus for which piratebush is the secondary host. This study described and analyzed current demographic parameters of three Tennessee piratebush populations. Additionally, spatial patterns of disease and demographic characters were analyzed. These data were compared to data from previous censuses to infer the impacts of diseases on piratebush and its host. All three populations were relatively stable in numbers and age structure over the past thirty years. Plant height and stems per shrub were similar among populations and stable over time. Seedlings represented 14%-19% of populations and non-flowering plants 33%-41% of populations. Two populations had an equal sex ratio and one population was male-biased. Disease prevalence was similar among populations but disease was more severe at Temple Ridge. The effects of hemlock decline were most acute at the Temple Ridge population where areas of high hemlock decline were associated with lower vigor piratebush individuals. Piratebush individuals near Virginia pines were more likely to be infected by C. appalachianum, and individuals infected by the rust fungus were more likely to have lower vigor. If hemlock decline is causing a piratebush host shift toward Virginia pine, piratebush populations may also decline because of potential enhanced infection by C. appalachianum. Treatment to prevent HWA infestation may be needed because of its effectiveness in improving the health of both hemlock and piratebush populations.

Document Type

Honors Thesis - Open Access

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.


Copyright by the authors.