The restoration of rivers throughout America needs to be carried out with a mind for the role played by the North American beaver, says a Kansas State University professor. Often known as ecosystem engineers, the beavers have been involved in the role and flow of rivers for centuries, long before humans crossed the land masses or oceans to disrupt them.
Subsequently, the restoration of these rivers should not forget the role that beavers play, and the role played by their creations.
“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,” said Kansas State University’s Melinda Daniels, an associate professor of geography who is co-author of a study published in the December edition of the journal BioScience.
Daniels hope for her research is that in the restoration of rivers being carried out throughout the country, ecosystem diversity will be acknowledged and doesn’t destroy it. Current projects simply do not take into account the role played by the beaver, creating free-flowing rivers that do not have the kinks and variances that beavers had put into the ecosystems prior to the arrival of the colonists.
“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.”
“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.”