Recovery and status of native and introduced beavers Castor fiber and Castor canadensis in France and neighbouring countries

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ABSTRACT

  • 1The Eurasian beaver Castor fiber suffered a drastic reduction in both geographical range and population size, due to human persecution, until the end of the 19th century. After the adoption of protection measures, natural expansion and reintroductions led to the recovery of this species over much of its European range.
  • 2We review historical events that led to the recovery of beavers in France, and summarize the status of beavers in various river systems. Beaver establishment in France is a story of overall success: several major river systems are presently occupied, so that the species is no longer at risk in France.
  • 3However, beaver recolonization took place in parallel with increasing human impacts on the environment. In addition to natural limiting factors, anthropogenic factors impeded beaver settlement in many areas. Today, beavers often occupy suboptimal habitats and, as a consequence, come into conflict with human activities. Effective solutions for preventing beaver damage include the restoration of riparian habitats to discourage crop damage and the provision of physical barriers to protect crops.
  • 4Beaver populations reintroduced into France all originate from the relict Rhône population. However, in recent years, beavers from populations in neighbouring countries have been expanding into north-eastern France. Therefore, our review of beaver origin and distribution in these countries may contribute to the development of appropriate national management strategies and towards important decisions, e.g. the decision to try to keep Rhône beavers genetically isolated, or to allow populations to mix.
  • 5The recently discovered presence of North American beavers Castor canadensis in three countries surrounding France has raised an important issue. This species may out-compete C. fiber in places where the species come into contact. A programme based on field-trapping sessions and genetic analyses has recently been initiated in some western countries in order to eradicate this non-native species.

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