The Use of Nest Boxes by the Hellbender Salamander in Western North Carolina
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The hellbender salamander (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis) is a unique, large-bodied amphibian that serves as an excellent water quality indicator species in Western North Carolina. This animal has suffered substantial population declines over the past four decades throughout its range. Increased stream siltation largely attributed to human development fills the concave undersides of large rocks, consequently destroying hellbender breeding habitat. Habitat degradation has contributed to reductions in North Carolinian populations to such a degree that the species is now considered of Special Concern in the state. In order to restore hellbender population sizes under current land use conditions, researchers have recently begun developing artificial nest boxes that exclude sediment and promote increased reproduction. To identify the short-term efficacy of these shelters as substitutes for natural hellbender habitat in Western North Carolina, I constructed and placed 54 boxes across five river sites throughout the region. Following summer nest box installment, I examined each shelter through the breeding season for hellbender inhabitation and to determine the quality of water passing through the structures. Additionally, I created a maximum entropy species distribution model and conducted a spatial connectivity analysis for the hellbenders of Western North Carolina to identify ideal locations for nest boxes installation in the future. Although no hellbenders have yet been detected in the artificial shelters, additional structural improvements and time may reveal nest boxes to be useful conservation tools for this iconic species of Special Concern.
CitationMesserman, Arianne (2014). The Use of Nest Boxes by the Hellbender Salamander in Western North Carolina. Master's project, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/8491.
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Rights for Collection: Nicholas School of the Environment