Hellbender populations range-wide are experiencing drastic decline.  Effective conservation strategies require understanding environmental factors underlying population occurrence within the stream networks Hellbenders inhabit. We have contrasted habitat elements between historically occupied and apparently unoccupied sites throughout the Upper Susquehanna sub-basin, which represents the northernmost segment of the species’ range.

Project Title:
Multi-scale Factors Influencing Distribution of the Hellbender Salamander (Cryptobranchus a. alleganiensis) in the Northern Segment of its Range

Historically occupied sites contained larger rocks and less soft sediment than unoccupied sites.  Predictive models of species’ distribution indicated that specific geologic features — loamy till, clayey to loamy till, and mixed origin sand and gravel deposits — as well as extensive forest cover were the strongest predictors of Hellbender occurrence.  We conclude that Hellbender occurrence is dependent on isolated and uncommon geological features that cause the species’ distribution to be highly patchy, and that stream sedimentation is a major threat to the species in its northern range segment.

Location: Central New York

Timeline: 2009-2011

Principal investigators:
Sam Quinn and James P. Gibbs, SUNY-ESF, Syracuse, New York, USA

New York State Dept. Environmental Conservation

James P. Gibbs, SUNY-ESF, Syracuse, NY 13210 USA, jpgibbs@esf.edu, 315/470-6764