The Cryptobranchid Interest Group
Jennifer Elwood Hellbender Conservation Grant

Grant information is available here.


Recipient 2012

Quantifying environmental DNA of hellbenders along a river system to estimate population density and reproductive status.Dr. Stephen Spear, Orianne Society, Clayton, GA.

Project Summary:

The major goal of this project is to use eDNA to estimate density of hellbender populations and develop a simple model to calculate population abundance from amount of DNA. A secondary objective is to identify reproductive activity by collecting samples during the spring/early summer when populations are nonreproductive and a second sample during the breeding season of late summer/early fall. To accomplish these goals, a quantitative PCR protocol is being developed for hellbenders that will allow us to quantify the amount of DNA in a water sample.


Recipient 2011

Efficacy of Vitellogenin (VTG) assays for sex determination in eastern hellbenders.
Dr. Rod Williams, Purdue University.

$1,000 Awarded in 2011

Project Summary:

To determine during what portion of the calendar year vitellogenin (VTG) assays can be used to accurately assess the sex of hellbenders. VTG production is specific to females, and its function in the reproductive cycle is to facilitate the formation and maturation of eggs. Because of this function, VTG is produced by females with some cyclicity. In previous trials we have conducted, VTG was detectable in the blood serum of female hellbenders at least two months prior to the breeding season in Indiana. However, the production of VTG during other portions of the year has not been studied. Consequently, the utility of these VTG assays to distinguish males from females during other portions of the year remains unknown.


Recipient 2010

A historical assessment of the eastern hellbender (Cryptobranchus a. alleganiensis) in a Pennsylvania stream.
Matt Kaunert, Allegheny College, Meadville, PA.

$1,000 Awarded in 2010

Project Summary:

To assess a historically dense and widely neglected area in northwest Pennsylvania, compare population data with an original study from 1968, and, if funding allows, to determine the presence or absence of the chytrid fungus.

The specific outcomes of the study will be comparing the size and structure of the population to the original data. There will undoubtedly be changes within the population, which could allow for inferences to be made regarding the environmental alteration since that time and their impact on the population. If chytrid is tested for and is indeed located, it will be another step towards understanding the fungus and its distribution.


Recipient 2009

Movement, diet, and microhabitat of larval Cryptobranchus alleganiensis (Daudin) in the Great Smoky Mountains.
Kirsten Hecht, Graduate Assistant, University of Florida.

$1,000 Awarded in 2009

Project Summary: Although recent declines have sparked an increase in studies on C. alleganiensis, most research has focused on adults. This is probably partially due to microhabitat differences between adults and larvae as well as survey method bias. While C. alleganiensis can live 3-6 years before reaching sexual maturity, little data has been collected on the habits and habitat of larvae and juveniles of the species. Therefore, this study aims to expand knowledge of the life history of larval hellbenders.

This project aims to:

  1. Determine microhabitat preference of larval and juvenile hellbenders in two streams in the Great Smoky Mountain region of Tennessee
  2. Determine the diet preference of larval and juvenile hellbenders in two streams in the Great Smoky Mountain region of Tennessee
  3. Determine movement of larval and juvenile hellbenders in two streams in the Great Smoky Mountain region of Tennessee
  4. Provide assistance with population estimates and age class ratios of C. alleganiensis in two streams in the Great Smoky Mountain region of Tennessee using mark-recapture techniques
  5. Assist with continued monitoring of populations within two streams in the Great Smoky Mountains
  6. Assess the effectiveness of a new larval trap for success in the field