Beavers: Natural Engineers Do It Better
A curious case of biomimetics was reported by Science Daily: engineers imitating beavers. River restoration is a big project in many states that would like to return their rivers to the way the colonists first found them. “When engineers restore rivers,” the article began, “one Kansas State University professor hopes they’ll keep a smaller engineer in mind: the North American beaver.”
Human engineers have been thinking too logically. They tended to believe that river restoration meant making a continuous flowing stream. They tore down milldams and felt satisfied when the river ran without breaks, but now realize they were missing something that beavers knew all along: river health requires ponds and multiple channels to increase diversity and productivity.
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.
This is not only a more natural approach to ecological engineering; it is a thrifty one. Melinda Daniels, co-author of a study published by Kansas State, 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.”
Why not just leave it to beaver? (Sorry, but you knew it was coming.)
For previous articles on beavers’ engineering benefits for the environment, see 10/11/2008, 02/25/2008, 06/08/2006, and 07/16/2005.