Whole-community facilitation by beaver: ecosystem engineer increases waterbird diversity

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ABSTRACT

  1. Wetlands are rich in biodiversity, but globally threatened. After a long period of regional extirpation, beavers have recently returned to many European areas and are now restoring wetlands. The beaver is remarkable regarding the large impacts it has not only on individual species but on entire communities and ecosystems. In fact, beavers are referred to as ‘ecosystem engineers’.
  2. The facilitative effect of the beaver Castor canadensis on a waterbird community of seven species of waders and ducks in boreal ponds was studied by using the before–after control–impact method (BACI) and analysing the effect of the duration of flooding. The before–after setting could be used since beavers had caused disturbance by flooding several forest ponds during the course of this long-term study (1988–2009). The study took place in southern Finland, where waterbirds were surveyed four times during the breeding season.
  3. The number of waterbird species per pond per year was significantly higher during beaver inundation than before beaver activity, as was the waterbird abundance per survey. Changes were negligible in the controls. The numbers of all seven species increased during flooding, although the increase was significant in only three species. Common teal Anas crecca and green sandpiper Tringa ochropus showed the most positive numerical response to flooding. Mallard Anas platyrhynchos and wigeon Anas penelope were new species entering the duck guild in the flooded wetlands. The beneficial effect of the flood lasted the whole period of inundation, although the most substantial increase in species number appeared during the first two years of flooding.
  4. The beaver acted as a whole-community facilitator for waterbirds. It was inferred from previous studies that this was done by modifying the habitat to make it more productive and structurally favourable. It is concluded that favouring beavers is a worthwhile tool in restoring wetlands to promote waterbird communities.

Copyright © 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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