Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

The ecosystem engineer: Research looks at beavers' role in river restoration

Date:
January 4, 2011
Source:
Kansas State University
Summary:
When engineers restore rivers, one professor hopes they'll keep a smaller engineer in mind: the North American beaver.

Beaver, cutting down a large oak tree. When engineers restore rivers, one Kansas State University professor hopes they'll keep a smaller engineer in mind: the North American beaver.
Credit: iStockphoto/Steve Greer

When engineers restore rivers, one Kansas State University professor hopes they'll keep a smaller engineer in mind: the North American beaver.

Related Articles


Beavers are often called ecosystem engineers because they can radically alter stream or valley bottom ecosystems, said Melinda Daniels, an associate professor of geography who recently studied the connection between beavers and river restoration. Beaver dams create diverse river landscapes, she said, and can turn a single-thread channel stream into a meadow, pond or multichannel, free-flowing stream.

"Our argument is that the restoration target for streams with forested riparian zones has got to acknowledge the diversity brought to river systems by active beaver populations," Daniels said.

Daniels and three researchers from the University of Connecticut co-authored "The River Discontinuum: Applying Beaver Modifications to Baseline Conditions for Restoration of Forested Headwaters." The article, led by Denise Burchsted at the University of Connecticut, appears in a recent issue of BioScience, the journal of the American Institute of Biological Sciences.

While the research involves observations of several watersheds in northeastern Connecticut, the results are applicable to any forested stream, which typically have large beaver populations. Beaver populations have rebounded in recent years, Daniels said, after coming close to extinction in the early 19th century by hunters for their fur.

The ultimate goal of the research, Daniels said, is to help restore rivers in an efficient way that acknowledges ecosystem diversity and doesn't destroy it.

"A lot of rivers are in trouble and need work and restoration, but it's amazing how little we know about the systems we're trying to fix," she said. "We know they're broken, but we don't exactly know what they should look like because we know so little about how many of our river systems function."

Current restoration projects often don't consider the role of beavers as ecosystem engineers, and instead focus on creating continuous free-flowing streams, Daniels said. Such restoration can be expensive because it usually involves completely tearing down small 19th-century milldams and re-engineering an entire valley bottom.

Rather than tear down the whole milldam and radically change the surrounding ecosystem, the researchers recommend river restorers only remove part of it. This allows some ponded water to remain and mimics the role of beavers. Daniels said that in many cases if an old dam breaks and forms a gap, beavers may build their own dam to patch the gap and recreate the ecosystem that previously existed.

The researchers plan to continue river observations and collect more data to provide river restorers with insight for maintaining river ecosystem diversity.

"You can use these natural analogs to produce an ecosystem that looks a lot more like the one that was there before the colonists arrived," Daniels said. "We can restore rivers in a way that mimics the naturally diverse beaver streams, and we can save a lot of money in the process."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Kansas State University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Denise Burchsted, Melinda Daniels, Robert Thorson, Jason Vokoun. The River Discontinuum: Applying Beaver Modifications to Baseline Conditions for Restoration of Forested Headwaters. BioScience, 2010; 60 (11): 908 DOI: 10.1525/bio.2010.60.11.7

Cite This Page:

Kansas State University. "The ecosystem engineer: Research looks at beavers' role in river restoration." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 January 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/01/110103110331.htm>.
Kansas State University. (2011, January 4). The ecosystem engineer: Research looks at beavers' role in river restoration. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 31, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/01/110103110331.htm
Kansas State University. "The ecosystem engineer: Research looks at beavers' role in river restoration." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/01/110103110331.htm (accessed October 31, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Friday, October 31, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

How A Chorus Led Scientists To A New Frog Species

How A Chorus Led Scientists To A New Frog Species

Newsy (Oct. 30, 2014) A frog noticed by a conservationist on New York's Staten Island has been confirmed as a new species after extensive study and genetic testing. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Surfer Accidentally Stands on Shark, Gets Bitten

Surfer Accidentally Stands on Shark, Gets Bitten

AP (Oct. 30, 2014) A 20-year-old competition surfer said on Thursday he accidentally stepped on a shark's head before it bit him off the Australian east coast. (Oct. 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Ebola Inflicts Heavy Toll on Guinean Potato Trade

Ebola Inflicts Heavy Toll on Guinean Potato Trade

AFP (Oct. 30, 2014) The Ebola epidemic has seen Senegal and Guinea Bissau close its borders with Guinea and the economic consequences have started to be felt, especially in Fouta Djallon, where the renowned potato industry has been hit hard. Duration: 02:01 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Genetically Altered Glowing Flower on Display in Tokyo

Genetically Altered Glowing Flower on Display in Tokyo

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Oct. 30, 2014) Just in time for Halloween, a glowing flower goes on display in Tokyo. Instead of sorcery and magic, its creators used science to genetically modify the flower, adding a naturally fluorescent plankton protein to its genetic mix. Ben Gruber reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins