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Geophysical Research Letters

Landscape-scale carbon storage associated with beaver dams



[1] Beaver meadows form when beaver dams promote prolonged overbank flooding and floodplain retention of sediment and organic matter. Extensive beaver meadows form in broad, low-gradient valley segments upstream from glacial terminal moraines. Surveyed sediment volume and total organic carbon content in beaver meadows on the eastern side of Rocky Mountain National Park are extrapolated to create a first-order approximation of landscape-scale carbon storage in these meadows relative to adjacent uplands. Differences in total organic carbon between abandoned and active beaver meadows suggest that valley-bottom carbon storage has declined substantially as beaver have disappeared and meadows have dried. Relict beaver meadows represent ~8% of total carbon storage within the landscape, but the value was closer to 23% when beaver actively maintained wet meadows. These changes reflect the general magnitude of cumulative effects in heterotrophic respiration and organic matter oxidation associated with historical declines in beaver populations across the continent.

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