Improving the Utility of Artificial Shelters for Monitoring Eastern Hellbender Salamanders (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis alleganiensis)
Button, Sky Terryn Christopher
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Artificial shelters show great promise as novel, non-invasive tools for studying hellbenders, but their use thus far has faced several challenges. During initial trials in multiple river networks, artificial shelters routinely became blocked by sediment and dislodged during high stream discharge events, and were rarely used by hellbenders. We sought to determine whether these complications could be overcome via alternative shelter design, placement, and maintenance. Between 2013 and 2018, we deployed 438 artificial shelters of two different designs across ten stream reaches and three rivers in the upper Tennessee River Basin. We assessed evidence for several hypotheses, postulating broadly that the availability, stability, and use of artificial shelters by hellbenders would depend on how shelters were constructed, deployed, and/or maintained. We found that maintaining shelters at least once every 40 days limited sediment blockage, and building ~ 40 kg shelters with 3-4 cm thick walls and recessed lids improved their stability during high discharge events. Additionally, we found that hellbenders most frequently occupied and nested in artificial shelters when they were deployed in deeper (~50+ cm) portions of reaches with high adult hellbender densities. Our results suggest that artificial shelters can serve as effective tools for studying hellbenders when designed, deployed, and maintained with these advancements, but also highlight some limitations of their use.
- Masters Theses