Topic Results: Wetlands

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The Positive Response of Small Terrestrial and Semi-Aquatic Mammals to Beaver Damming

Ecosystem engineers, such as the Eurasian beaver, Castor fiber, transform habitats, thereby creating favourable conditions for other species and increasing biodiversity. Multiple studies have revealed that beaver ponds are valuable habitats for invertebrates and vertebrates, including other mammals, but the impact of watercourse damming on the fauna of small terrestrial rodents and shrews has not yet been documented. We aimed at testing the hypothesis that the presence of beaver dams and consequent flooding enriches the small mammal assemblage both quantitatively and qualitatively. We live-trapped small mammals at nine beaver-modified sites on 300 metre transects alongside dammed watercourses, starting from the dam through to the pond to the sections with unmodified lotic conditions. The abundance and species richness of trapped small mammals were highest near the dams and declined with distance. Additionally, five out of 12 trapped species significantly decreased their abundance with distance from the dam and none revealed the opposite trend. Four species were more abundant on plots subjected to damming (especially Sorex minutus and Micromys minutus), while none were present solely on undammed plots. Among the semi-aquatic species, two water shrews benefited from beavers’ activity in different ways. Neomys milleri occurred only in flooded sections, while N. fodiens preferred unmodified sections, but was the most numerous closer to the dams, following the already known patterns of competitive displacement observed in Central Europe. An important factor affecting small mammals, the herbaceous layer cover, appeared to be interdependent with damming. We provide the first unequivocal evidence that beaver dams facilitate the abundance and diversity of small mammals, presumably due to increased food abundance, availability of shelters and habitat connectivity. Beaver-created wetlands may act as potential refuges for the species most susceptible to the consequences of anthropogenic climate change, while revealing a critically low range-shift capacity.

Field-based monitoring of instream leaky barrier backwater and storage during storm events

Engineered leaky barriers are increasingly used as natural flood management methods providing ecosystem and water quality benefits in addition to flood attenuation, complementing hard engineering flood defences. Fieldbased monitoring of a natural flood management site, Wilde Brook in the Corvedale catchment, England (UK) studied the rainfall-runoff relationship for a 5.36 km reach with 105 leaky barriers over two years. Paired pressure transducers were placed upstream and downstream of three channel spanning leaky barriers, allowing evaluation of upstream backwater rise relative to rainfall intensity, storm magnitude, and frequency. By increasing backwater rise, the leaky barriers caused overbank flows, resulting in a reduction in the crosssectional area velocity after the event. The incidence of overbank flow depended on the local stream crosssectional profile, barrier properties, location in the reach, and storm magnitude.

EEAGER: A Neural Network Model for Finding Beaver Complexes in Satellite and Aerial Imagery

Beavers are ecosystem engineers that create and maintain riparian wetland ecosystems in a variety of ecologic, climatic, and physical settings. Despite the large-scale implications of ongoing beaver conservation and range expansion, relatively few landscape-scale studies have been conducted, due in part to the significant time required to manually locate beaver dams at scale. To address this need, we developed EEAGER—an image recognition machine learning model that detects beaver complexes in aerial and satellite imagery. We developed the model in the western United States using 13,344 known beaver dam locations and 56,728 nearby locations without beaver dams. Performance assessment was performed in twelve held out evaluation polygons of known beaver occupancy but previously unmapped dam locations. These polygons represented regions similar to the training data as well as more novel landscape settings. Our model performed well overall (accuracy = 98.5%, recall = 63.03%, precision = 25.83%) in these areas, with stronger performance in regions similar to where the model had been trained. We favored recall over precision, which results in a more complete catalog of beaver dams found but also a higher incidence of false positives to be manually removed during quality control. These results have far-reaching implications for monitoring of beaver-based river restoration, as well as potential applications detecting other complex landforms.

Restoring Western Headwater Streams with Low-Tech Process-Based Methods: A Review of the Science and Case Study Results, Challenges and Opportunities

This report reviews published research and unpublished case study information on the effects ofrestoring incised and degraded headwater streams in western states with low-tech processbased restoration methods (LTPBR). LTPBR is a subset of process-based restoration (PBR) that seeks to re-establish natural stream processes by reconnecting incised streams with their floodplains and adjacent wetlands so that more frequent inundation of the floodplain occurs. Projects involve the use of simple, temporary, hand-built wood and rock structures that mimic
natural beaver structures, acting as speed bumps that capture sediments to aggrade the stream. LTPBR approaches are substantially less expensive than form-based stream restoration approaches that employ heavy equipment.i This approach is appealing in part because low project costs enable implementation at a scale that can respond to the extent of floodplain alteration, which is estimated at 45% of headwaters streams in Colorado. ii Negative effects of disconnected floodplains include lower groundwater tables, lower summer base flows,
warmer water temperatures, and substantial loss of riparian habitat.

Beaver Ponds as BMPs for MS4 Impervious Restoration

Within the State of Maryland, the potential water quality benefits of beaver are not recognized as contributing to regulatory-mandated pollution reductions. Therefore, jurisdictions lack a regulatory incentive to either encourage beaver colonization or manage and protect existing beaver habitat. Such an incentive is important, as conflicts between human and beaver habitat regularly arise. While beaver habitat often increases the groundwater table and the wetted extent of a stream system, this is not always welcomed by homeowners and can result in beaver being trapped out, with beaver dams dismantled. If beaver ponds were a recognized BMP to improve water quality, it would assist local jurisdictions with the development of beaver habitat conservation programs via easements and adaptive management. Rather than living on top of nature and replicating nature’s original ecosystem engineers with significant amounts of tax dollars, citizens could live with nature allowing tax dollars to go further, and implement more ecological restoration.

Beaver pond biogeochemical effects in the Maryland Coastal Plain

The fluxes and concentrations of materials from two contiguous second-order watersheds in the Coastal Plain of Maryland, U.S.A. were measured for six years prior to and six years subsequent to the formation of a 1.25 ha beaver pond near the bottom of one of the watersheds. The watersheds have a clay aquiclude and were equipped with V-notch weirs and continuous volume-integrating water samplers. The beaver pond reduced annual discharge of water, total-N, total-P, dissolved silicate, TOC, and TSS by 8, 18, 21, 32, 28, and 27%, respectively. Most of the total-N reduction was due to increased retention of nitrate in the winter and spring and TON in the winter and summer. Most of the total-P reduction was the result of retention of both TPi and TOP in the winter and summer. Dissolved silicate retention peaked in the spring, while TOC and TSS retention peaked in the winter. Prior to the formation of the beaver pond, concentrations of TON, TPi, TOP, TOC, and TSS had highly significant correlations with stream discharge, especially in the winter, but subsequent to the pond there was little or no relationship between these concentrations and stream discharge. However, concentrations of nitrate in the spring and ammonium in the summer were highly correlated with stream discharge both before and after the formation of the beaver pond and regressions of discharge versus concentrations of these nutrients explained more of the variation in concentrations after the formation of the pond.

Can reintroduction of beavers improve insect biodiversity?

Ecosystem engineering species, such as beavers, may help the restoration of biodiversity. Through the building of dams and lodges and altering the natural hydrology, beavers change the habitat structure and create multiple habitats that facilitate a wide variety of other organisms including terrestrial invertebrate communities. Here we study the effect of beaver reintroduction in Klosterheden in Denmark on biomass of flying invertebrates and diversity of moths. Further, aerial photos were used to assess riparian structure and productivity using the normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI). Our findings show that the presence of beavers affected flying invertebrate biomass, but that this was dependent on time of the year. Further, a strong effect of presence of beavers was found on diversity of moths. The results also show an increase in vegetation productivity and structural heterogeneity at sites with presence of beavers. Overall, our results demonstrate the importance of beavers as important ecosystem engineers that affect invertebrate species composition and abundance, as well as riparian structure and productivity.

EEAGER: a model that detects beaver-created wetlands in satellite and aerial imagery

Beavers are ecosystem engineers that can dramatically change the shape of the landscape and how water moves through it. They create and maintain wetland environments across North America and Eurasia in a wide variety of places, including mountains, deserts, coasts, forests, grasslands, shrublands, etc. Despite their large influence on the landscape, there are very few programs that monitor them at the landscape, regional, or continental scale. This is partially due to how much time it takes to find and identify beaver dams in satellite and aerial images. To make it easier for us to find and understand the influence of beavers at larger scales, we built a model that can automatically find beaver dams in satellite and aerial imagery. While our model is trained to find beaver dams, this type of model has promise for finding other landscape features too. The model isn’t perfect, but it is a strong starting point and will continue to improve as more people use it.

Incorporating beaver dams in a physically-based hydrological model

A current challenge in ecohydrology is the incorporation of beaver dams into hydrological models. Select works have attempted to solve this problem using routing approaches, Manning coefficient variations, pond dynamics, or fully-distributed hydraulic models; however, all these approaches assume that all beaver dams are homogeneous structures and react in the same way to rainfall events. Recent findings highlight the importance of including the functional heterogeneity of beaver dams, especially the water path past the dam (dam flow state). To overcome the challenge of accounting for different dam flow states interrupting downstream water transmission in different ways, we developed BEAVERPY, a flow state-based Python package that can be coupled with the platform Cold Regions Hydrological Model (CRHM) to represent both streamflow modulation by ponds and dams, while also simulating infiltration and evapotranspiration. We used the broad-crested weir equation for the overflow dams, the Darcy equation for the seep flow dams, and the v-notch weir equation for the gapflow dams, verifying each case with synthetic experiments. To calibrate and validate the model, we instrumented the ponds and streams in a peatland fen in the Canadian Rocky Mountains in Alberta with level sensors and ‘DamCams’ (trail cameras) to capture flow type. Then, we used LIDAR DEM data and high-resolution imagery to delineate the hydrological response units. Each pond is represented as an HRU, which can interact with soil and routing modules. Finally, we conducted a scenario-testing experiment to understand the sensitivity of different beaver dam flow states for several storms. The results indicate the importance of including flow state dynamics for the beaver dam representations, and highlight the importance of integrating animal-ecological aspects into the streamflow modelling. This research has implications for understanding the use of  beaver as a nature-based solution for flood mitigation and river restoration.

Beaver dams overshadow climate extremes in controlling riparian hydrology and water quality

Hydrologic extremes dominate chemical exports from riparian zones and dictate water quality in major river systems. Yet, changes in land use and ecosystem services alongside growing climate variability are altering hydrologic extremes and their coupled impacts on riverine water quality. In the western U.S., warming temperatures and intensified aridification are increasingly paired with the expanding range of the American beaver—and their dams, which transform hydrologic and biogeochemical cycles in riparian systems. Here, we show that beaver dams overshadow climatic hydrologic extremes in their effects on water residence time and oxygen and nitrogen fluxes in the riparian subsurface. In a mountainous watershed in Colorado, U.S.A., we find that the increase in riparian hydraulic gradients imposed by a beaver dam is 10.7–13.3 times greater than seasonal hydrologic extremes. The massive hydraulic gradient increases hyporheic nitrate removal by 44.2% relative to seasonal extremes alone. A drier, hotter climate in the western U.S. will further expand the range of beavers and magnify their impacts on watershed hydrology and biogeochemistry, illustrating that ecosystem feedbacks to climate change will alter water quality in river systems.

Rewilding the American West

In general, rewilding aims to reestablish vital ecological processes that can involve removing troublesome nonnative species and restoring key native species. Our rewilding call is grounded in ecological science and is necessary regardless of changing political winds. Our objective is to follow up on President Biden’s vision to conserve, connect, and restore by identifying a large reserve network in the American West suitable for rewilding two keystone species, the gray wolf (Canis lupus) and the North American beaver (Castor canadensis).

Beaver: The North American freshwater climate action plan

Rivers and streams, when fully connected to their floodplains, are naturally resilient systems that are increasingly part of the conversation on nature-based climate solutions. Reconnecting waterways to their floodplains improves water quality and quantity, supports biodiversity and sensitive species conservation, increases flood, drought and fire resiliency, and bolsters carbon sequestration. But, while the importance of river restoration is clear, beaver-based restorationfor example, strategic coexistence, relocation, and mimicryremains an underutilized strategy despite ample data demonstrating its efficacy. Climate-driven disturbances are actively pushing streams into increasingly degraded states, and the window of opportunity for restoration will not stay open forever. Therefore, now is the perfect time to apply the science of beaver-based low-tech process-based stream restoration to support building climate resilience across the landscape. Not every stream will be a good candidate for beaver-based restoration, but we have the tools to know which ones are. Let us use them.

A Review of Two Novel Water-Tight Beaver Dam Analogs (WTBDA) to Restore Eroded Seasonal Creeks in Drain Tile Zones to Permanent Beaver Wetlands

Reducing nutrient runoff in streams is an important task to reduce algae blooms and associated environmental damage in large waterbodies. Beaver Dam Analogs (WTBDA) are an means to address this problem. These Water Tight Beaver Dam Analogs (WTBDA) present a novel approach to this technique that also aim to restore eroded seasonal creeks to perennial wetlands.

Distribution of Canadian Rocky Mountain Wetlands Impacted by Beaver

We studied the distribution of beaver-impacted mineral wetlands and peatlands in a 7,912 km2 area of the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Using aerial photography and an existing wetland database, we inventoried 529 wetlands at elevations of 1,215 to 2,194 m; peat soils were found at 69 % of the 81 field verified wetlands.

Are beavers a solution to the freshwater biodiversity crisis?

To determine whether reintroduced beavers, as an example of native herbivorous megafauna, can increase freshwater biodiversity at the landscape scale and to compare effects on two contrasting taxonomic groups.

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Beaver in the Drainage Basin: an Ecosystem Engineer Restores Wetlands in the Boreal Landscape

The research gathered in this paper discusses the beaver’s effects on: wetland carbon cycling, riparian forest structure, and biodiversity. This thesis also covers the relationship between beaver populations and the existence of wetlands, particularly the way in which beavers are an essential part of wetland ecosystems.

Potential mitigation of and adaptation to climate-driven changes in California’s highlands through increased beaver populations

Evaluating the potential for beaver to adapt to and to mitigate anticipated changes in California’s higher elevation land- and waterscapes.

Habitat engineering by beaver benefits aquatic biodiversity and ecosystem processes in agricultural streams

Dam building by beaver in degraded environments can improve physical and biological diversity
when viewed at a scale encompassing both modified and unmodified habitats.

Livestock Grazing Limits Beaver Restoration in Northern New Mexico

The goal of this study was to evaluate factors such as cattle grazing that may limit the occurrence of dam-building beavers in northern New Mexico.