Declining beaver populations in Rocky Mountain National Park have park officials concerned, especially now that the value of beaver dams to downstream ecosystems has been documented. USGS wildlife biologist Bruce Baker, with Cherie Westbrook and David Cooper of Colorado State University, recently collaborated with park biologists to complete a 3-year study of how beaver dams affect ecosystem health in the headwaters of the Colorado River. The results, published in the June issue of Water Resources Research, describe how beaver dams divert water laterally and downstream in the river valley, which recharges groundwater and maintains soil moisture levels and wetland plant growth during periods of low streamflow. Researchers estimate it would take a 200-year flood event for water to reach the same areas flooded by beaver dams. These findings suggest the effects of beaver on physical and biological processes may be even greater than previously recognized, especially in wide riparian valleys.
For more information contact: Bruce Baker
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