Developing a Coordinated Research Approach for Hellbender Conservation in the Northeast Region - Final Report

The eastern hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis alleganiensis) is declining in many parts of its range [1] and has been identified as a Species of Greatest Conservation Need by the Northeast Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (NAFWA). The species’ historic range in the northeast includes New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia and Virginia. Despite a significant amount of research effort, substantial gaps remain in our knowledge of the hellbender’s current distribution, particularly in NY, PA and VA. Given the broad distribution and cryptic nature of this species, generating a comprehensive distribution map is challenging using traditional approaches. Conventional hellbender surveys rely on rock-turning, which is time-intensive, physically demanding, and potentially destructive to the species’ microhabitat. In contrast, environmental DNA (eDNA) surveys can provide information about species occurrence (and potentially abundance) without disturbing sensitive habitat [2]. Such information is urgently needed to guide ongoing efforts to protect and restore wild hellbender populations.

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