Climate Change, Drought, and Beavers

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“The study, published online recently in
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.”
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News release
University of Alberta

Beaver population helps battle drought

The presence of busy beavers can do more to
preserve water resources than temperature,
precipitation and other climate variables.

by Bev Betkowski
http://www.expressnews.ualberta.ca/article.cfm?id=9085

February 19, 2008 – Edmonton – 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 when possible, 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 a professor of environmental sciences
at the University of Alberta’s Augustana Campus
in Camrose.

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

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. Infilling and drainage of wetlands
have 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, she added.

“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.”

When beaver were present, there was 60 per cent
more open water in drought-stricken areas than in
those same areas, during previous drought
periods, when beaver were absent.

The study, published online recently in
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, said Hood. 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.

The study was supported by funding from the
Canadian Circumpolar Institute, Alberta Sport,
Recreation, Parks and Wildlife Foundation and the
Friends of the Elk Island Society.

Address of this ExpressNews article:
http://www.expressnews.ualberta.ca/article.cfm?id=9085

University of Alberta  Copyright © 2002-2008

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