• Tundra be dammed: Beaver colonization of the Arctic
    • Ken Tape (Research Assistant Professor, WERC/UAF)
    • December 01, 2017
  • Image above: Beaver activity (yellow) in NW Alaska.

Increasing air temperatures are changing the arctic tundra biome. Permafrost is thawing, snow duration is decreasing, shrub vegetation is proliferating, and boreal wildlife is encroaching. Here we present evidence of the recent range expansion of North American beaver (Castor canadensis) into the Arctic, and consider how this ecosystem engineer might reshape the landscape, physical environment, and biodiversity. We developed a remote sensing approach that maps formation and disappearance of ponds associated with beaver activity. Since 1999, 56 new beaver pond complexes were identified, while only 4 beaver ponds dried, indicating that beavers are colonizing a predominantly tundra region of northwest Alaska. We discuss rates and routes of tundra beaver colonization, as well as effects on permafrost, stream ice regimes, and freshwater and riparian habitat. Beavers may be priming arctic streams for the establishment of salmon runs, providing new subsistence resources for people. Beavers create dynamic wetlands and are agents of disturbance that may enhance ecosystem responses to warming in the Arctic.

(Ken Tape’s co-authors are Benjamin M. Jones, Christopher D. Arp, Ingmar Nitze, Guido Grosse and Christian E. Zimmerman)

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