Modeling and Analysis of American Chestnut Populations Subject to Various Stages of Infection
American chestnuts, Castanea dentata, were once a dominant tree in eastern deciduous forests of the United States before the chestnut blight fungus, Cryphonectria parasitica, was introduced unintentionally in the early 1900s in New York. This fungus rapidly devastated American chestnut populations until a hypovirus infection of the fungus began to reduce pathogen virulence on chestnut trees. The subsequent reappearance of large reproducing chestnut trees, associated with a large proportion of blight-infected isolates being parasitized by this hypovirus, is currently taken to indicate recovery of American chestnut populations. We explore, using previously-established matrix population models, the dynamics of healthy, fungus-infected, and hypovirus-infected American chestnut populations to test the efficacy of this recovery. Our main result is that populations transitioning from being fungus-infected to hypovirus-infected are predicted to show large transient amplifications as a result of demographic transitions, only to decline asymptotically to zero, and this result is robust to uncertainty in fecundity values. Our results suggest that the current recovery of the American chestnut population may be a transient phenomenon and that more conservation efforts may be necessary to ensure its long-term persistence.