Beavers are the archetypal keystone species, which can profoundly alter ecosystem structure and function through their ecosystem engineering activity, most notably the building of dams. This can have a major impact upon water resource management, flow regimes and water quality. Previous research has predominantly focused on the activities of North American beaver (Castor canadensis) located in very different environments, to the intensive lowland agricultural landscapes of the United Kingdom and elsewhere in Europe. Two Eurasian beavers (Castor fiber) were introduced to a wooded site, situated on a first order tributary, draining from intensively managed grassland. The site was monitored to understand impacts upon water storage, flow regimes and water quality. Results indicated that beaver activity, primarily via the creation of 13 dams, has increased water storage within the site (holding ca. 1000m(3) in beaver ponds) and beavers were likely to have had a significant flow attenuation impact, as determined from peak discharges (mean 30±19% reduction), total discharges (mean 34±9% reduction) and peak rainfall to peak discharge lag times (mean 29±21% increase) during storm events. Event monitoring of water entering and leaving the site showed lower concentrations of suspended sediment, nitrogen and phosphate leaving the site (e.g. for suspended sediment; average entering site: 112±72mgl(-1), average leaving site: 39±37mgl(-1)). Combined with attenuated flows, this resulted in lower diffuse pollutant loads in water downstream. Conversely, dissolved organic carbon concentrations and loads downstream were higher. These observed changes are argued to be directly attributable to beaver activity at the site which has created a diverse wetland environment, reducing downstream hydrological connectivity. Results have important implications for beaver reintroduction programs which may provide nature based solutions to the catchment-scale water resource management issues that are faced in agricultural landscapes.
Globally, greenhouse gas budgets are dominated by natural sources, and aquatic ecosystems are a prominent source of methane (CH4) to the atmosphere. Beaver (Castor canadensis and Castor fiber) populations have experienced human-driven change, and CH4 emissions associated with their habitat remain uncertain. This study reports the effect of near extinction and recovery of beavers globally on aquatic CH4 emissions and habitat. Resurgence of native beaver populations and their introduction in other regions accounts for emission of 0.18-0.80 Tg CH4 year(-1) (year 2000). This flux is approximately 200 times larger than emissions from the same systems (ponds and flowing waters that became ponds) circa 1900. Beaver population recovery was estimated to have led to the creation of 9500-42 000 km(2) of ponded water, and increased riparian interface length of >200 000 km. Continued range expansion and population growth in South America and Europe could further increase CH4 emissions.
Potential for habitat restoration is increasingly used as an argument for reintroducing ecosystem engineers. Beaver have well known effects on hydromorphology through dam construction, but their scope to restore wetland biodiversity in areas degraded by agriculture is largely inferred. Our study presents the first formal monitoring of a planned beaver-assisted restoration, focussing on changes in vegetation over 12years within an agriculturally-degraded fen following beaver release, based on repeated sampling of fixed plots. Effects are compared to ungrazed exclosures which allowed the wider influence of waterlogging to be separated from disturbance through tree felling and herbivory. After 12years of beaver presence mean plant species richness had increased on average by 46% per plot, whilst the cumulative number of species recorded increased on average by 148%. Heterogeneity, measured by dissimilarity of plot composition, increased on average by 71%. Plants associated with high moisture and light conditions increased significantly in coverage, whereas species indicative of high nitrogen decreased. Areas exposed to both grazing and waterlogging generally showed the most pronounced change in composition, with effects of grazing seemingly additive, but secondary, to those of waterlogging. Our study illustrates that a well-known ecosystem engineer, the beaver, can with time transform agricultural land into a comparatively species-rich and heterogeneous wetland environment, thus meeting common restoration objectives. This offers a passive but innovative solution to the problems of wetland habitat loss that complements the value of beavers for water or sediment storage and flow attenuation. The role of larger herbivores has been significantly overlooked in our understanding of freshwater ecosystem function; the use of such species may yet emerge as the missing ingredient in successful restoration.
Beaver have been referred to as ecosystem engineers because of the large impacts their dam building activities have on the landscape; however, the benefits they may provide to fluvial fish species has been debated. We conducted a watershed-scale experiment to test how increasing beaver dam and colony persistence in a highly degraded incised stream affects the freshwater production of steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss). Following the installation of beaver dam analogs (BDAs), we observed significant increases in the density, survival, and production of juvenile steelhead without impacting upstream and downstream migrations. The steelhead response occurred as the quantity and complexity of their habitat increased. This study is the first large-scale experiment to quantify the benefits of beavers and BDAs to a fish population and its habitat. Beaver mediated restoration may be a viable and efficient strategy to recover ecosystem function of previously incised streams and to increase the production of imperiled fish populations.
The Canadian beaver (Castor canadensis) is the largest indigenous rodent in North America. We report a draft annotated assembly of the beaver genome, the first for a large rodent and the first mammalian genome assembled directly from uncorrected and moderate coverage (< 30 ×) long-reads generated by single-molecule sequencing. The genome size is 2.7 Gb estimated by k-mer analysis. We assembled the beaver genome using the new Canu assembler optimized for noisy reads. The resulting assembly was refined using Pilon supported by shortreads (80 ×) and checked for accuracy by congruency against an independent short-read assembly. We scaffolded the assembly using the exon-gene models derived from 9805 full-length open reading frames (FL-ORFs) constructed from the beaver leukocyte and muscle transcriptomes. The final assembly comprised 22,515 contigs with an N50 of 278,680 bp and an N50-scaffold of 317,558 bp. Maximum contig and scaffold lengths were 3.3 and 4.2 Mb, respectively, with a combined scaffold length representing 92% of the estimated genome size. The completeness and accuracy of the scaffold assembly was demonstrated by the complete and precise exon placement for 91.1% of the 9,805 assembled FL-ORFs and 83.1% of the BUSCO (Benchmarking Universal Single-Copy Orthologs) gene set used to assess the quality of genome assemblies. Well-represented were genes involved in dentition and enamel deposition, defining characteristics of rodents with which the beaver is well-endowed. The study provides insights for genome assembly and an important genomics resource for Castoridae and rodent evolutionary biology.
Solving problematic phylogenetic relationships often requires high quality genome data. However, for many organisms such data are still not available. Among rodents, the phylogenetic position of the beaver has always attracted special interest. The arrangement of the beaver’s masseter (jaw-closer) muscle once suggested a strong affinity to some sciurid rodents (e.g., squirrels), placing them in the Sciuromorpha suborder. Modern molecular data, however, suggested a closer relationship of beaver to the representatives of the mouse-related clade, but significant data from virtually homoplasy-free markers (for example retroposon insertions) for the exact position of the beaver have not been available. We derived a gross genome assembly from deposited genomic Illumina paired-end reads and extracted thousands of potential phylogenetically informative retroposon markers using the new bioinformatics coordinate extractor fastCOEX, enabling us to evaluate different hypotheses for the phylogenetic position of the beaver. Comparative results provided significant support for a clear relationship between beavers (Castoridae) and kangaroo rat-related species (Geomyoidea) (p < 0.0015, six markers, no conflicting data) within a significantly supported mouse-related clade (including Myodonta, Anomaluromorpha, and Castorimorpha) (p < 0.0015, six markers, no conflicting data).
Beavers (Castor canadensis) can be a significant prey item for wolves (Canis lupus) in boreal ecosystems due to their abundance and vulnerability on land. How wolves hunt beavers in these systems is largely unknown, however, because observing predation is challenging. We inferred how wolves hunt beavers by identifying kill sites using clusters of locations from GPS-collared wolves in Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota. We identified 22 sites where wolves from 4 different packs killed beavers. We classified these kill sites into 8 categories based on the beaver-habitat type near which each kill occurred. Seasonal variation existed in types of kill sites as 7 of 12 (58%) kills in the spring occurred at sites below dams and on shorelines, and 8 of 10 (80%) kills in the fall occurred near feeding trails and canals. From these kill sites we deduced that the typical hunting strategy has 3 components: 1) waiting near areas of high beaver use (e.g., feeding trails) until a beaver comes near shore or ashore, 2) using vegetation, the dam, or other habitat features for concealment, and 3) immediately attacking the beaver, or ambushing the beaver by cutting off access to water. By identifying kill sites and inferring hunting behavior we have provided the most complete description available of how and where wolves hunt and kill beavers.
The North American Beaver (Castor canadensis) is the second largest living rodent and an iconic symbol of Canada. The beaver is a semi-aquatic browser whose diet consists of lignocellulose from a variety of plants. The beaver is a hindgut fermenter and has an enlarged ceacum that houses a complex microbiome. There have been few studies examining the microbial diversity in gastrointestinal tract of hindgut fermenting herbivores. To examine the bacterial and archaeal communities inhabiting the gastrointestinal tract of the beaver, the microbiome of the ceacum and feaces was examined using culture-independent methods. DNA from the microbial community of the ceacum and feaces of 4 adult beavers was extracted, and the16S rRNA gene was sequenced using either bacterial or archaeal specific primers. A total of 1447 and 1435 unique bacterial OTUs were sequenced from the ceacum and feaces, respectively. On average, the majority of OTUs within the ceacum were classified as Bacteroidetes (49.2%) and Firmicutes (47.6%). The feaces was also dominated by OTUs from Bacteroidetes (36.8%) and Firmicutes (58.9%). The composition of bacterial community was not significantly different among animals. The composition of the ceacal and feacal microbiome differed, but this difference is due to changes in the abundance of closely related OTUs, not because of major differences in the taxonomic composition of the communities. Within these communities, known degraders of lignocellulose were identified. In contrast, to the bacterial microbiome, the archaeal community was dominated by a single species of methanogen, Methanosphaera stadtmanae. The data presented here provide the first insight into the microbial community within the hindgut of the beaver.
Objective: The study’s purpose was to test if subclinical atherosclerosis was associated with the risk of developing HI in a large cohort of middle-aged participants. Methods: Study subjects were members of the Beaver Dam Offspring Study (BOSS), a longitudinal study of adult children of participants in the population-based Epidemiology of Hearing Loss Study (1993-present). BOSS examinations took place in 2005-2008 (baseline) and 2010-2013 (5-year follow-up). The 5-year incidence of hearing impairment was defined as a pure-tone average (PTA) of thresholds at 0.5, 1, 2 and 4 kHz > 25 dB Hearing Level (dB HL) in either ear at follow-up among participants at risk (baseline PTA in both ears < = 25 dB HL; n = 2436, mean age = 47.7 years). Atherosclerosis was measured as the mean carotid intima-media thickness and the presence of carotid artery plaque. Results: Among the 1984 participants at-risk with a follow-up audiometric examination, the 5-year incidence of hearing impairment was 8.3% (95% Confidence Interval (C.I.) 7.1, 9.5). With multivariable adjustment, carotid intima-media thickness was positively associated with hearing impairment incidence (Relative Risk (RR) = 1.14 per 0.1 mm, 95% C.I. 1.04, 1.24). The number of sites (0-6) with plaque was also positively associated with the incidence of impairment (RR = 1.16 per site, 95% C.I. 1.01, 1.32). Conclusion: Atherosclerosis was associated with the 5-year incidence of hearing impairment in this predominantly middle-aged cohort. Interventions targeting atherosclerosis prevention may help to prevent or delay the onset of hearing impairment.
Beaver are an integral component of hydrologic, geomorphic, and biotic processes within North American stream systems, and their propensity to build dams alters stream and riparian structure and function to the benefit of many aquatic and terrestrial species. Recognizing this, beaver relocation efforts and/or application of structures designed to mimic the function of beaver dams are increasingly being utilized as effective and cost-efficient stream and riparian restoration approaches. Despite these verities, the notion that beaver dams negatively impact stream habitat remains common, specifically the assumption that beaver dams increase stream temperatures during summer to the detriment of sensitive biota such as salmonids. In this study, we tracked beaver dam distributions and monitored water temperature throughout 34 km of stream for an eight-year period between 2007 and 2014. During this time the number of natural beaver dams within the study area increased by an order of magnitude, and an additional 4 km of stream were subject to a restoration manipulation that included installing a high-density of Beaver Dam Analog (BDA) structures designed to mimic the function of natural beaver dams. Our observations reveal several mechanisms by which beaver dam development may influence stream temperature regimes; including longitudinal buffering of diel summer temperature extrema at the reach scale due to increased surface water storage, and creation of cool-water channel scale temperature refugia through enhanced groundwater-surface water connectivity. Our results suggest that creation of natural and/or artificial beaver dams could be used to mitigate the impact of human induced thermal degradation that may threaten sensitive species.