Beaver population helps battle drought

February 20, 2008
Busy Beavers Can Help Ease Drought
Beavers can help mitigate the effects of drought and should not be pushed away from wetlands for industrial and residential development, a University of Alberta study says. Credit: Glynnis Hood, University of Alberta

They may be considered pests, but beaver can help mitigate the effects of drought, and because of that, their removal from wetlands to accommodate industrial, urban and agricultural demands should be avoided, according to a new University of Alberta study.

“Removal of beaver should be considered an environmental disturbance on par with in-filling, peat mining and industrial water extraction,” said researcher Glynnis Hood, lead author on the study and an assistant professor of Environmental Sciences at the University of Alberta’s Augustana Campus in Camrose, Canada.

In examining how beaver influenced some of Alberta’s wetlands in Elk Island National Park over a 54-year period, Hood and her co-investigator, Professor Suzanne Bayley, discovered that the presence of beaver and their dams increased by up to nine times, the presence of open water.

Climate models predict the incidence of drought in parts of North America will increase in frequency and length over the next 100 years, and beaver will likely play an important role in maintaining open water and mitigating the impact, Hood said. The infilling and drainage of wetlands has increased to make way for urban and industrial expansion, and beaver colonies are being removed both inside and outside of protected areas, which means a continued loss of water resources, Hood noted.

“In times of drought they may be one of the most effective ways to mitigate wetland loss,” said Hood. “Some people believe climate is driving everything, but the presence of beaver has a dramatic effect on the availability of open water in an area. Beaver are helping to keep water in areas that would otherwise be dry.” Even during drought, where beaver were present, there was 60 per cent more open water than those same areas during previous drought periods when beaver were absent.

The study, published recently in the online edition of Biological Conservation, also found that temperature, precipitation and other climate variables were much less important than beaver in maintaining open water areas in the wetlands of the mixed-wood boreal forest.

The role of beaver in sustaining open water is critical for several reasons. Flooding caused by beaver dams provides habitat and water resources used by land animals and amphibians, and even provides water for livestock. It can also recharge groundwater reserves.

Source: University of Alberta

Explore further: Ecologists enlist beavers, walmart in wetlands conservation effort

Related Stories

Beavers: Dam good for songbirds

October 8, 2008

The songbird has a friend in the beaver. According to a study by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), the busy beaver's signature dams provide critical habitat for a variety of migratory songbirds, particularly in the ...

Recommended for you

Moonlighting molecules: Finding new uses for old enzymes

November 27, 2015

A collaboration between the University of Cambridge and MedImmune, the global biologics research and development arm of AstraZeneca, has led researchers to identify a potentially significant new application for a well-known ...

Four pre-Inca tombs found in Peru's Lima

November 27, 2015

Archaeologists in Peru have found four tombs that are more than 1,000 years old in a pyramid-shaped cemetery that now sits in the middle of a residential neighborhood in Lima, experts said.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Feb 20, 2008
Who are these people that don't like beavers and think they are pests?

Oh and very funny title...

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.