Habitat and population ecology of the eastern hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis)

Advisor: Dr. Amy McMillan (Biology Department, Buffalo State College)
Other Mentors: Robin Foster (Evolution, Ecology, & Behavior Program)

Primary Activities:Field work, data analysis, GIS

Project Summary: For species that have suffered significant population reductions, restoration using techniques such as head-starting and translocation is often considered as a conservation strategy.  Setting restoration goals and priorities is a key consideration in this process, and is often hampered by a lack of information about both present and historical distribution and abundance.  Furthermore, the factors driving species declines are often poorly understood.  Restoration of a species without addressing the underlying factors impacting its populations is unlikely to be successful.

The eastern hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis) is a highly elusive, fully aquatic salamander endemic to the eastern United States.  This species has experienced population reductions throughout its range, and restoration through the release of captive-reared individuals has become a preferred conservation strategy in many locations, including New York.  Understanding the factors influencing hellbender populations is vital to a successful restoration program, but there is much that remains unknown about the potential threats to hellbender recovery, particularly in the Upper Susquehanna watershed.
This study will focus on increasing our understanding of several key habitat parameters that may influence the success of hellbender restoration, including substrate characteristics and macroinvertebrate communities at potential release sites.  Summer research objectives will include a statistical comparison of substrate size profiles and macroinvertebrate diversity in occupied and unoccupied sites.  The project will also include field collection of data, assisting with hellbender surveys, GIS mapping, and macroinvertebrate identification.

Skills/Courses Recommended:Experience with GIS and introductory statistics helpful, must have ability to do field work, previous experience with macroinvertebrate identification preferred
Anticipated Conference Presentation(s): Northeast Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (NEPARC), Hellbender Symposium



University at Buffalo