The hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiesis) is a large, fully aquatic salamander native to cold, fast-flowing Appalachian streams. It uses its rudimentary lungs primarily for buoyancy, and it has no gills, so gas exchange occurs across its very wrinkled skin. Because warm water holds less oxygen than cold water, hellbenders may be even more at risk to climate change then terrestrial salamanders.
To understand this risk, researchers at SCBI are studying hellbenders both in the wild and in controlled lab-based studies. By examining how temperature and water quality influence stress indicators, metabolism, and immune function, researchers can develop effective management strategies to ensure the survival of this unique Appalachian species.