June 8, 2006 | David F. Coppedge

Beavers Achieve Environmental Reprieve

In what might be considered an unexpected convergence between geology and zoology, it has been found that beaver dams influence large tracts of land both above and below ground.  “Impact of beaver dams wider than thought” announced a headline on LiveScience summarizing studies by scientists in Rocky Mountain National Park.
    The dams take water that would otherwise be channeled down narrow passages and spread it out, raising the water table and sustaining plant and animal life during the dry season.  The “construction projects also spread water downstream with the efficiency of a massive once-every-200-years flood,” the article states.  “….Additionally, beaver dams built away from natural river channels further redirect water across the valley, increasing the depth, extent, and duration of small floods.”  This suggests that “beavers can create and maintain environments suitable for the formation and persistence of wetlands.”
    Without the spreading effect of the dams, small and large floods would largely rush down to the lowlands, leaving mountain valleys dry.  The beaver dams help capture and spread the resources into the sides of the mountain valleys where it can be stored in the water table.  This moderates the peak- and low-water periods, resulting in enhanced vitality and biodiversity of mountain ecosystems.
    See also the 07/16/2005 entry on how beavers are inspiring human dam builders.

In the fur trade era, these river rats were valued only for hats, as their pelts produced felt for svelte European dudes.  Now we know that beavers’ influence is felt in bigger and better ways.  Watch the IMAX film Beavers on DVD at home and marvel at another of God’s adorable creatures that are useful as well as ornamental – as we also should be.

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Categories: Amazing Facts, Mammals

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