Conservation genetics is a powerful tool to assess the population structure of species and provides a framework for informing management of freshwater ecosystems. As lotic habitats become fragmented, the need to assess gene flow for species of conservation management becomes a priority. The eastern hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis alleganiensis) is a large, fully aquatic paedamorphic salamander. Many populations are experiencing declines throughout their geographic range, yet the genetic ramifications of these declines are currently unknown. To this end, we examined levels of genetic variation and genetic structure at both range-wide and drainage (hierarchical) scales. We collected 1,203 individuals from 77 rivers throughout nine states from June 2007 to August 2011. Levels of genetic diversity were relatively high among all sampling locations. We detected significant genetic structure across populations (Fst values ranged from 0.001 between rivers within a single watershed to 0.218 between states). We identified two genetically differentiated groups at the range-wide scale: 1) the Ohio River drainage and 2) the Tennessee River drainage. An analysis of molecular variance (AMOVA) based on landscape-scale sampling of basins within the Tennessee River drainage revealed the majority of genetic variation (~94–98%) occurs within rivers. Eastern hellbenders show a strong pattern of isolation by stream distance (IBSD) at the drainage level. Understanding levels of genetic variation and differentiation at multiple spatial and biological scales will enable natural resource managers to make more informed decisions and plan effective conservation strategies for cryptic, lotic species.


This is the publisher pdf of Unger SD, Rhodes OE Jr, Sutton TM, Williams RN (2013) Population Genetics of the Eastern Hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis alleganiensis) across Multiple Spatial Scales. PLoS ONE 8(10): e74180 and is available at: 10.1371/journal.pone.0074180.

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