The beaver: nature’s architect

By Pia Amberger, USAG Ansbach DPW Environmental Management Division

ANSBACH, Germany (Dec. 1, 2016) — There are currently more than 14,000 beavers living in Bavaria and two of them are calling USAG Ansbach’s Soldiers Lake their home. Considering that the beaver was facing extinction because of overhunting in many parts of the world not too long ago, that is a pretty great message.

Unfortunately, there is hardly any other animal in the region as controversial as the beaver. In many areas residents and farmers complain about small rivers and streams that are dammed up, trees that fall prey to the beaver or the financial loss his various works created. Damage caused by beavers is often a very hot topic in the media. Millions of trees are cut down almost every year to clear areas for roads and industrial construction without anyone noticing, but one gnawed-upon tree at the riverside and the beaver produces headlines. But there is also a positive side to the beaver.

Beavers create snags or so-called deadwood. If a beaver gnaws off the bark of a tree or the roots are submerged, a tree may die. But by no means is this deadwood actually dead; it becomes a very valuable part of our environment from a nature conservation standpoint. It becomes a habitat and food source for numerous fungi and insects. Rare plants can thrive on it, birds find a nesting place and bats lodging for their young.

If a beaver cuts down a tree so that it falls into the water, the submerged branches provide hiding places for fish. The same can be said about the beaver dams and lodges. In the immediate vicinity of a beaver, the fish density is up to 80 times higher than in comparable waters without a beaver. The reason is that in beaver ponds, fish find more food, they reproduce better and grow larger. They also find more spawning grounds and resting places in winter. Additionally, deadwood creates turbulence in the water that helps the accumulation of oxygen.

Where beavers build their dams and actively shape their territory, dynamic returns to our landscape. As rivers erode they transform, and new biotopes rich in species, especially endangered ones, are created. Rarely can a man-made wetland produce and maintain the naturalness and the variety of species offered by a biotope that was shaped by a beaver.

So you see the beaver is not just a pest; it is an animal with at least as many advantages as disadvantages.


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