Doctoral Dissertations

Orcid ID

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Major Professor

Monica Papes

Committee Members

Jennifer Schweitzer, Xingli Giam, Elisabeth Schussler, Sally Horn


Anthropogenic disturbances are defined as any change caused by human activity that alters biodiversity. Wildfire and urbanization disturbances are among the most influential on the landscape because of their individual and interactive properties. Areas deemed wildland-urban interfaces (WUI; area where environment intermingles with human-built structures) are increasing near protected lands because of human population growth and movement, which often facilitates fire ignitions by humans. Houses that are adjacent to or overlap with wildland vegetation can complicate protection of urban development and wildlands from fires. The expansion of the WUI due to population growth will exacerbate fire risk, which can ultimately cause shifts in plant community composition and diversity in densely populated regions like the eastern United States (U.S.). A fire that began in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP), Tennessee, U.S. in November 2016 and quickly spread to the neighboring town of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, created a natural experiment to investigate the interaction of fire and urbanization disturbances along the WUI and within the GSMNP.

To assess the impacts of wildfire and urbanization, consideration must be given to the direct impacts from human activities and the indirect consequences of human views toward such disturbances. Research has focused on understanding differing views and attitudes toward climate change, yet few studies have been conducted with a college-aged demographic to understand attitudes toward combined anthropogenic disturbances at a local scale.

Throughout my dissertation work, I investigated how the combined and individual effects of wildfire and urbanization affect both plant diversity and undergraduate students’ attitudes. I provide evidence that: 1) the compounded disturbances of wildfire and urbanization are affecting plant community composition and diversity through time following the Chimney Tops 2 fire and 2) following a classroom intervention, undergraduate beliefs towards the deleterious effects of wildfire and urbanization on the environment increase, thus also increasing their intention to act.

Results from this dissertation will be useful in assessing general human impact on plant diversity in the southern Appalachian region, informing policy decisions at the regional level, and understanding how people feel toward anthropogenic disturbances in a region experiencing an increase in interacting disturbance events.

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