The Cryptobranchid Interest Group
Ron Goellner Conservation Fund

Grant information is available here.


CIG Ron Goellner Conservation Fund Recipients 2004-2011

Using environmental DNA for monitoring to compliment hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis) surveys to determine current status across Tennessee.
Dr. Stephen Spear and Dr. Chris Jenkins, The Orianne Society.

Awarded $1000 in 2011

Project Summary: Project Summary: Three main objectives: 1) confirm that the eDNA approach is effective for hellbenders; 2) test whether there is a density threshold for detecting hellbenders with eDNA and whether the method can detect hellbenders where intensive surveys cannot; and 3) test how consistently different water samples detect hellbender DNA. This will serve the most important purpose of determining whether eDNA monitoring will be useful in the future for conservation studies, but also will complement a funded study of hellbender status across Tennessee.


Assessment of Genetic Structure Within and Among Eastern Hellbender Populations.
Dr. Rod Williams and Shem Unger, Purdue University.

Awarded $960 in 2010

Project Summary: To examine levels of genetic variation and genetic structure among populations of eastern hellbenders within their natural range, including sites from eight states.


Genetic Sex Diagnosis of Cryptobranchus alleganiensis.
Paul Hime, St. Louis Zoo and Joshua Reece, Washington University, St. Louis.

Awarded $1,000 Awarded in 2009

Project Summary: This project seeks to identify genetic markers that reliably diagnose sex in Cryptobranchus. Genetic sex diagnosis is well established for a wide variety of vertebrates and has significant implications for species conservation and research. To date, no method exists for genetic sexing of salamanders. Cryptobranchids are diploid organisms that exhibit a ZZ/ZW sex determining system in which females possess two different sex chromosomes and males possess an identical pair. By locating and characterizing regions of DNA unique to the W chromosome of females, one can diagnose sex by routine genetic techniques. Once sex-specific fragments of DNA are detected, those regions will be sequenced to generate primers for a reliable PCR-based assay for sex. Once verified for Cryptobranchus, these primer sequences will be published, allowing other researchers access to this powerful tool. Another component of this study will test the effectiveness of these techniques in both species of Andrias. Given the close relationships within Cryptobranchidae, we expect this diagnostic to be widely effective across the family.


Physical and Chemical Properties of Eastern Hellbender Microhabitat.
Peter J. Petokas, Ph.D., Research Associate, Department of Biology, Lycoming College.

Awarded $900 in 2008

Project Summary: To quantify the physical and chemical properties of Eastern Hellbender microhabitat. This information can then be used to assess the suitability of stream reaches for Hellbender reintroduction. Hellbender microhabitats generally occur as cavities beneath large stream and inside underwater rock caves and crevices. This study will quantify the properties of undisturbed microhabitat by assessing:

  • cavity size (depth, width, height),
  • orientation of cavity entrances to channel and hydrological features,
  • water velocity at cavity entrances,
  • dissolved oxygen concentration inside and outside the cavities,
  • basic water chemistry (pH, alkalinity, etc.) in the adjacent stream channel,
  • light intensity inside the cavities,
  • water temperature inside and outside the cavities,
  • stream pavement type and composition, and
  • the presence/absence of Hellbenders inside the cavities.
By comparing occupied and unoccupied cavities, caves, and crevices, we will determine the range-of-variation and the relative importance of measured microhabitat variables. This information can then be used to design and construct habitat features to enhance existing stream habitat and/or to identify the best reaches for the release of captive-reared Hellbenders. This project has a high probability of success and will provide the detailed information needed for sound conservation planning.


Effects of field use of tricane on amphibians.
J. Kelley Bryan, Graduate Student, Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, University of Florida.

Awarded $500 in 2007

Project Summary: To develop a protocol for field use of MS-222 based on behavioral and physiological data gathered from this study. Specifically, the impact of MS-222 on behavioral responses to environmental cues, immune function, development, and gross anatomy will be studied in an effort to develop a protocol that assesses the difference between the impact of off-label field use and the prescribed use of the drug on the animals.


Testing the efficacy of hyporheic well traps for sampling larval Eastern hellbenders.
Gregory Lipps, LLC, Herpetologist.

Awarded $500 in 2006

Project Summary: To survey for the larvae of the Eastern Hellbender, Cryptobranchus alleganiensis alleganiensis, in (undisclosed creek) in Ohio. This creek population is believed to be the largest and healthiest population in the state, and therefore, the most likely to have successful recruitment. Despite this, Hellbender larvae have never been found within this creek, or anywhere else in the state. The project will hopefully provide additional information concerning the habitat use of larval Hellbenders and begin the process of developing a methodology for surveying for larvae. Success will be measured by the capture of larval Hellbenders in Ohio, which would be a first in Ohio’s history.


Health and habitat survey of the Eastern hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis alleganiensi) in Ohio and West Virginia.Barbara Wolfe, DVM, PhD, DACZM. (The Wilds, Columbus Zoo and The Good Zoo at Oglebay)

Awarded $500 in 2006

Project Summary:The purpose of this project is to improve hellbender conservation by surveying and monitoring the health of hellbender populations and current and historic habitats in Ohio watersheds to determine potential threats to hellbenders in this area. Researchers will comparatively analyze the general health of these populations and the differences between habitats in the Ohio streams to the habitat at (undisclosed creek), WV that supports a vigorous population of hellbenders. These efforts have the potential to greatly impact conservation of hellbenders in Ohio and the surrounding region.


Developing environmentally sound and efficient trapping techniques to study hellbenders in Tennessee.
Dale McGinnity, Nashville Zoo and Brian Miller, Middle Tennessee University

Awarded $500 in 2005

Project Summary: To develop an environmentally sound and efficient survey technique for hellbenders. Hellbenders are often collected while snorkeling and lifting slab rock and small boulders in water 0.5 – 2 meters in depth, or by use of scuba gear and lifting rocks in deeper water. However, in some streams, rocks are too large to be lifted and in other streams, rock turning may be harmful to populations. For example, lifting large cover rocks may alter their suitability as a future nest site. Often, the upstream edges of these rocks are below the substrate and when lifted, the leading edge is dislodged from the substrate allowing water to flow under the rock when it is replaced. Rocks with appropriate hydrodynamics for nesting may be a limiting factor in some populations. Therefore, we believe non-destructive diurnal survey techniques should be developed. Baited traps have been successful in catching hellbenders in previous studies. However, neither of the traps used to capture hellbenders in these rivers were designed specifically for hellbenders. We believe a trap designed to the unusual morphology and behavior of hellbenders may produce an efficient and environmentally sound survey technique. Also, we plan to use an inexpensive camera system to monitor traps and to test the suitability of these cameras to survey for hellbenders under rocks. Success will be measured by the ability to collect or locate specimens during daylight hours without altering their microhabitats.


Creating a community awareness program for local canoeists and campers in the Ozarks of Missouri
to reduce negative interaction between people and hellbenders and their habitat.
Amber Pitt, Florida Museum of Natural History.

Awarded $500 in 2004

Project Summary: To develop a community awareness program in the Ozarks of Missouri focused on streamside landowners and river users to reduce the negative interactions between people and hellbenders and their habitat. Between June and August 2004, I initiated a pilot education program for canoeists and canoe ranch operators in an attempt to increase awareness and decrease negative interactions. I hung laminated hellbender posters provided by the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) at public canoe launches and distributed informational packets, including posters and "help the hellbender" stickers from the MDC to local canoe ranches. I urged the owners to hang the posters in visible locations such as gift shops and bathrooms and place the stickers on canoes. I discussed the possibility of expanding this effort in the future to include educational talks at nighttime as most canoeists were overnight guests at the ranches’ campgrounds. This idea was given a positive reception. In summer 2005, I propose to continue this educational initiative by providing nighttime programs to campers. Formative surveys would be conducted at the campgrounds and summative surveys of canoeists, some conducted while they are on the river, will be conducted to determine the effectiveness of the programs. The results would determine if the program should serve as a model to be utilized.


Monitoring giant salamanders in Japan using radio telemetry, gaining insight into population structure and habitat usage. Sumio Okada, Tottori University.

Awarded $500 in 2004

Project Summary: In this study, we will use radio telemetry to evaluate the extent and characteristics of movements by Andrias japonicus, Japanese giant salamander, to better understand the population structure of the species. Of particular interest are movements between distinct sections of riverine habitat in the study area. We hypothesize these inter-section movements are largely restricted to specific groups within the population, involved with breeding behavior, and may be affected by population density. In testing this hypothesis we will gather crucial baseline data on movement patterns, breeding behavior and population structure of this species in natural habitat. The habitat of this rare salamander is increasingly fragmented by dams, effectively separating many populations. Data on movements, especially dispersal between river sections, will aid in setting conservation priorities by highlighting critical groups within populations, and defining demographic units relevant to management actions.


Examining population structure, seasonal activity and larval density of Eastern hellbenders in North Carolina.
Jeff Humphries, Clemson University.

Awarded $500 in 2004

Project Summary: 1.) To determine population size and density of hellbenders in selected western North Carolina streams. 2.) Verify population structure (ratio of adults, juveniles and larvae; adult body size differences) related to stream size and how it may vary among main stream stems and tributaries of the main stream. 3.) Ascertain if there is a seasonal difference in nocturnal activity of hellbenders in selected streams and how the activity of southern Appalachian populations compares to activity reported in the central Appalachians. 4.) Establish methods for detecting and monitoring larval and juvenile hellbenders.