|Ozark-Hellbender. Photo by Jeff Briggler|
The federally endangered Ozark hellbender is a large salamander that spends its life under large rocks or in crevices in clear, cool spring-fed streams in southern Missouri and northeast Arkansas. Drastic declines have occurred in populations of the Ozark hellbender since the 1970s, and experts are still working to understand reasons for the salamander's decline.
One factor potentially contributing to hellbender population decline is the sperm health of male hellbenders. Endocrine disrupting compounds, which have been shown to alter normal reproductive development in various aquatic species, have been detected in streams occupied by Ozark hellbenders. Biologists wondered if these compounds could interfere with the reproductive cycle of this species.
To address this question, Service biologists captured Ozark hellbenders during the breeding season and assessed the rates of motility (percentage of moving cells), viability (percentage of live cells), and concentration of sperm samples. Preliminary results indicate that Ozark hellbenders are producing healthy sperm, with viability and motility rates approaching 100 percent in some instances. This bodes really well for captive breeding efforts and natural reproduction in the wild.
Learn more about other amphibian conservation and research projects at http://1.usa.gov/1HOIIwM