When the industrious beaver scurries around being its toothy self, cutting down trees and blocking up waterways, it's not just altering the lay of the land; it's out there combating climate change, a few carbon emissions at a time.
When beavers build a dam, impeding the natural flow of water, the river begins to overflow more often, creating a sediment-rich wetland area known as a beaver meadow. A new study from Colorado State University geology professor Ellen Wohl finds that these beaver meadows store carbon, temporarily sequestering greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. With reductions in the beaver population, we're missing out on a whole lot of potential carbon storage.
Between 60 million to 400 million beavers once lived across 60 percent of North America, but European settlers substantially reduced the population through hunting and trapping. When beaver populations relocate and abandon their dams, beaver meadows eventually dry up into grasslands, and the wood and organic matter buried there begins to decompose and release carbon dioxide.
This suggests that beavers play an important role in keeping the ecosystem resilient against climate change, drought and wildfire, the study notes. Wohl found that the abandoned beaver dams she studied made up around 8 percent of the carbon storage in the landscape, and that if beavers were still actively maintaining those dams, the number would be closer to 23 percent. As such, wiping out most of the continent's beaver population during pre-Colonial times probably had quite an impact on the climate.
Beavers: Squirreling away our carbon log by log.
The study appears in Geophysical Research Letters.
Considering we're at a critical carbon deficit right now, it's about time to start wiping these pudgy menaces out for good!
I'm a little skeptical about this study. I have a hard time believing that cutting down trees and burying them in water will have a net negative impact on the level of carbon in the area. You're reducing a carbon sync AND anaerobic decomposition as you would get with buried plant matter would produce methane, which is a much more potent greenhouse gas than CO2. I suppose the new plant growth in the area previously covered by the river could offset that, but it really doesn't seem likely. There may be a reduction in CO2, but I'd bet there is a net increase of atmospheric carbon.
Cute Beaver and interesting article, too.
Critical carbon deficit? WTF are you talking about?
@Frosttty, for most of the history of the world, we have had significantly more atmospheric carbon than we do now. Most of it has already been buried. Atmospheric carbon has been falling since the late Jurassic, when it was about 2500 ppm vs today's 400 ppm. Considering the climate stabilizing properties of greenhouse gasses and the importance of CO2 to life on Earth, we need to do everything we can to prevent carbon sequestration if we desire a healthy planet.
As a retired Department of Environmental Quality Employee and an owner of timber land, this is a stupid article on environmentalism gone crazy in past history. The beaver is a destructive animal that needs to be hunted or exterminated. A single beaver can and will build a dam that will flood and create a pond anywhere from 2 to 10 acres. All vegetation (trees, brush, plants) are killed in this pond area created. Wildlife/insects in this newly created pond area move or die from drowning.
As far as the "release of carbon dioxide" with the European/Colonial settlement of North America and the beaver trapping that occurred from the 1500's to the 1800's - give me a break. Beavers continue to cut down trees and brush AFTER their dam and ponds are built - yes, the destruction exceeds the pond area. Beaver teeth grow through out their life like most rodents and they must alway chew/grind on something. Why doesn't the author try to calculate how much forest was saved (carbon dioxide sequestered) by trapping the beavers?
They are pretty good at reducing problems with drought, too. We could easily return half the world's farmland to wilderness, for Beaver and other wetland creatures and live longer, healthier lives just by adopting a vegetarian diet. Meat only counts as health food if you are in a stone-age culture.
Another squirrely climate story brought to you by the crazies @ poop science.
Today's magic is tomorrow's technology.
Reading some of these comments it's clear that it's not enough that beavers sequester carbon, raise the water table, augment the density and diversity of fish and bird populations, trap silt and expand the riparian border. I'm curious what kind of startling data it will take to convince readers that beavers really are worth a dam!
It would probably take a return to nature. A society that lived in the 17 or 1800's or earlier. One which does not exist anymore. It is nice to believe that we can just let nature take care of us, if only we could denounce our evil ways. But the fact is that it takes a lot more than beavers to feed the estimated 7 billion people that populate the earth. I'm sorry to say, because I love nature, but our future is in the hands of technology if we are to continue to grow and evolve and move forward as a race.
While it would be exceptionally nice to be able to preserve some of the natural beauty of the earth, growing pressure on the environment, global food sources and energy resources, that is expected to continue to grow exponentially as the world's population reaches an estimated 11 billion people by 2050, leaves us with limited alternatives.
Perhaps we can, as I said, save what's left of the natural earth by exploiting space for resources, maybe build colonies on the moon and mars, but all that isn't going to happen for quite some time. So either we use what we have or we can expect a massive dying off of most of humanity. It's that simple. The earth was never meant to sustain this many people.
I dunno, maybe I'm wrong about some of this. I hope so, I am no expert. It just seems to me that the views of the environmentalists are too simplistic, and do not take into account humanities true needs. You can argue that humanity needs a clean and natural earth, and I wouldn't argue back. But for that we must reduce the population. There is NO natural way to sustain us all.
So what does all this have to do with beavers? How many dam beavers would it take to help us out? And do we even have the room for them on our rivers and streams? And could that land be used instead in better, more efficient ways?
My point is that it's technology that has enabled us to multiply into this vast global populace. And it will be technology that sustains us. Not beavers.
Today's magic is tomorrow's technology.
... aside from dams and environmental 'landscaping', they also make great hats and jackets.
On a side note of beavers, beaver hat trivial...
One of the legends about Daniel Boone is the type of cap which he wore. To this day, people believe he wore a "coonskin cap," His son, Nathan, tells us that Daniel Boone never wore a coonskin cap. "My father, Daniel Boone, always despised the racoon fur caps and did not wear one himself, as he always had a hat."
Just incase you were curious, lol.