Department Chair

Gregory J. Wadsworth, Ph.D., Chair and Associate Professor of Biology

Date of Award


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Campus-Only Access

Degree Name

Biology, M.A.


Biology Department


Amy M. McMillan, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Biology

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First Reader

Thomas D. White, Ph.D., Professor of Biology


The hellbender, Cryptobranchus alleganiensis, is North America’s only giant salamander and is endemic to the eastern United States. Hellbender populations are declining and management efforts may be essential to their continued survival. The Buffalo Zoo is raising hellbenders collected from the Allegheny drainage by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. These animals are being released back into the drainage in an attempt to increase the population size. Little research exists on New York hellbender genetics, yet genetic information would help inform a head-starting program. The main objectives of this study were to 1) survey and collect samples from eight sites in the New York Allegheny drainage, 2) characterize the genetic structure, composition, and diversity of the northern Allegheny watershed and of the head-started cohort, and 3) develop management guidelines for the reintroduction of head-started individuals. Hellbenders were found in four of the eight sites surveyed. Over 200 animals New York and Pennsylvania and the head-started cohort were genotyped at 10 microsatellite loci. Genetic analysis indicated that the upper Allegheny is one ecological management unit, although we discovered evidence of recent genetic drift in the northern-most tributary. The head-started cohort has lower allelic richness compared to wild sites. Reintroducing head-started animals to the northern-most tributary might reverse the effects of genetic drift. However, releasing large numbers of this cohort throughout the New York Allegheny basin could potentially lower the overall genetic diversity. Future head-starting efforts using targeted egg collection from diverse sites could counteract this potential negative consequence.

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