Date of Award


Degree Name



College of Science

Type of Degree


Document Type


First Advisor

Thomas Pauley

Second Advisor

Chris Burcher

Third Advisor

Frank Gilliam

Fourth Advisor

Jeffrey May


The Eastern Hellbender, Cryptobranchus alleganiensis alleganiensis, is a species of concern in West Virginia and is in need of management. An important component of conservation efforts will involve identifying suitable habitat for protection. The goal of this research was to locate populations and examine hellbender habitat preferences to help managers identify habitat for protection. Populations were located using rock turning surveys from May through November, 2006. Hellbenders may be sensitive to water chemistry, so the dissolved oxygen, pH, turbidity, specific conductivity, and water temperature were measured. Substrate composition may influence populations, so substrate was characterized with Wolman pebble counts. Crayfish relative abundance was measured because they are an important prey item. Mean habitat characteristics of sites where hellbenders were present and absent were compared with t-tests. Habitat variables were ordinated in princip al component analysis and examined in 2-dimensional ordination space to determine if sites where hellbenders were present grouped. Populations were found at 12% of sites, indicating that populations have declined in many streams. Hellbenders preferred sites with a large amount of gravel and cobble, cool water temperatures, low specific conductivity, and lower pH values. Gravel and cobble substrates may provide habitat for larval hellbenders and invertebrate prey items. Cool streams allow for more efficient cutaneous gas exchange. Low specific conductivity may indicate undisturbed conditions, suggesting hellbender populations were concentrated in less disturbed streams. Acidic conditions can alter prey communities and affect amphibian survival, so it was surprising to find populations in more acidic streams, although levels were above those known to harm stream ecosystems. Streams with similar habitat characteristics should be protected to conserve this unique salamander.


Salamanders - West Virginia.

Salamanders - Habitat.

Giant salamanders - Habitat.