Make way for the natural engineers-Beavers World’s Cutest Protectors!
So climate change is no longer something that is a taboo subject. Gone were the days when people used to talk about it behind the doors and in whispers. In recent years if there is one thing that has unified the whole globe together, it is the care for our mother nature. Be it the call of Greta or the elevated interest level that the celebs have shown, global climate change is a topic that is making headlines for all the right reasons.
Some of the worst things that humankind is subjected to are the shortage of non-renewable sources as well as the fear that we won’t have much for its coming generations. Let us sum up what are the worst possible consequences of climate change:
1. Oceans are getting warm.
2. The slow but steady rise of the sea level.
3. Prolonged and intense droughts that are threatening the crops.
4. Droughts that also pose serious threats to wildlife or freshwater.
5. Biodiversity endangerment.
6. Serious ambient air pollution.
7. Chronic diseases and their high rates.
9. Glaciers are melting.
10. Habitat destruction.
We humans do not give animals the credit that they so rightfully deserve. They co-habitat the planet earth with us and despite us trying everything in our power to destroy the life-sustaining abilities of this planet, they on the other hand are doing the exact opposite.
One such spectacular case of this is the constructional role that beavers are playing in the protection of mother earth. Although we refuse to estimate the productive efforts of these rodents, they are a magnanimous work of art.
People often simplify things by stating that these creatures with strangely shaped tails and big buck teeth are cute as a button, but they are so much more than what we like to call a ‘pretty face’. It is pretty much the plump stature that seals the deal for them. They are able to pave the way for the creation of wetlands and are helpful for the healthy riverine habitat that is highly essential for the plants and animal diversity-all hail to this stature. Pretty impressive, right!!!
If you thought that this is all that they have done, well, hold the thought. The righteous deeds of these humble natural creatures know no leaps and bounds. Apart from the aforementioned and applause-worthy endeavors, these beavers are also engaged in quite other activities such as they make sure that humanity is able to cope with the wildfires, droughts as well as climate change.
Just when we are on the verge of finding any hint of cure that can just magically make all the disastrous effects of anthropogenic activities go away, these beavers are doing all the hard work at a steady pace to make sure that the planet is stabilized. With all this hard work, it is safe to declare that beavers are the ‘Natural Climate Solutions.’
A look back in time
Long before the colonization of the Europeans in North America, beavers used to thrive on the land. It is estimated that almost hundreds of millions of beavers were calling that place their homeland. The local residents at that time were stern in their guidelines regarding beaver killings which were not in any shape or form or under any circumstance acceptable. They used to consider these plump creatures as the protectors of biodiversity. But after some time, it all went down the rails.
It was the tempting offers regarding the high prices and raised the market value of beavers pelts and oils that led to merciless animal killings. These beavers were becoming the prime figure of fashionable hats and high-priced perfumes all across Europe. This heavy exploitation of these harmless and eventually essential creatures leads to the partial endangerment of these creatures from that particular landscape.
Well, this thrust of mankind just to up the fashion game heavily affected our environment. It is majorly because of that beaver hunt that the riverine became less sturdy, less complex, and it also affected their adaptability. Waterscapes and their ability to support various plants and animals also hit rock bottom.
The story of today’s landscape is no different. The lands are dried and in no shape or form; they are worthy of hosting flora or fauna. The situation of wetlands is quite drastic in the west. The available wetland in the American West at this current moment is two percent, and they are supporting up to 80% of the entire biodiversity. This automatically makes dam-building beaver immensely important for the region.
The Change in narrative-reputable Natural Builders
Beavers are on the rise and have built quite a notable reputation for themselves. According to the latest studies, their dam-building abilities are applause-worthy as they can restore biodiversity in a dried flood plain. Their restoration qualities are even on the rise during the worst of droughts.
They both support and promote green vegetation as well as provide biodiversity a rightful chance to find home again. The areas that beavers create during such drastic conditions are very well suited for the biodiversity to thrive. Even during times of wildfires, the beaver-created wetlands are the perfect refuge for fauna.
Wildfires make up for about 5 to 10 % of the global carbon dioxide emissions; the impact that beavers have on the wetlands and their integrity is one for the books - like Eager.
Hydrologist and a beaver expert, Dr. Emily Fairfax, says that beaver behavior can help us solve climate-induced problems like mega-drought and wildfire in the American West.
The "Hydrological Engineers" build the beaver dams that act as small ponds and wetlands that work as a barrier against water flow and wildfires. By increasing the surface area of wetland, beaver dams slow the water flow, which helps restore groundwater levels. The moist vegetation, in turn, also makes it difficult for a wildfire to proliferate.
Beavers and their ecological services
Beaver meadows and wetlands offer more than their firebreaks and drought-mitigation services. For all those who don’t have an idea about beaver ponds, they act like sponges that store carbon-containing gases for a short period of time before it leaks back out to the environment.
Beaver ponds are large areas that are humongous sources of greenhouse gases. Methane and nitrous oxide are the best examples of planet-warming gases. Methane is known to trap earth radiation almost 25% more than CO2. On the other hand, nitrous dioxide almost traps 300 times more radiation than carbon dioxide. So if we are to consider the fact that the earth is a large landscape, then it means that beavers are large storage houses for carbon.
The way beavers contribute to climate change is very principled and leaves a long-lasting mark. When you remove a beaver dam or let go of any sediments corralled behind these structures, greenhouse gases will leak out into our atmosphere, contributing to global warming. Abandoned beaver meadows contain only 3.3% carbon content- a significant decline from the 12% carbon (by weight) in the active beaver dams.
The carbon sequestration in the soil of beaver wetlands and riparian areas is also a significant driver of climate change. Less than 8% of the land surface are wetlands, which store about 30% of the planetary carbon dioxide in soil. A study conducted by the University of Helsinki estimated that beaver ponds across the planet could store up to 470,000 tons of carbon or, alternatively, release 820,000 tons of carbon every year.
Though we cannot estimate the net effect of beavers on global carbon sequestration, there's a hope that beaver restoration to the landscapes can positively impact climate change.
Beaver ponds, permafrost, and climate change
Abandoned beaver dams might be responsible for spikes in the graphs of greenhouse gases in North America, but the change doesn’t stop here. The rising global temperatures are favoring the influx of beavers in a previously inaccessible region, the Northern Tundra. A place cold enough for trees to take roots, what beavers need to build dams, is now accessible - thanks to thawing permafrost. They are building ponds by chewing down the shrubs and moss in Tundra to evade predators and transport wood back and forth all night for making dams.
This permafrost-led invasion has become a global concern. The number of beaver dams has increased markedly from 2 to 98 from 2002 to 2019, with five new dams constructed each year. Extrapolate that to a global scale, and you'll see hundreds of thousands of beaver oases. Things get complicated when the beaver ponds transfer the heat to the ground, which facilitates thawing permafrost and ultimately releasing greenhouse gases stored inside.
These oases are transforming the whole ecosystem and biodiversity in the region. Colonizing the Tundra, beavers are making it easier for boreal species to gain a foothold in the Arctic,” says Ken D Tape, co-author of the paper.
Scientists are still logging the number, location, and impacts of beaver ponds in the North. But don’t turn on beavers just yet. A National Geographic report says beavers can still help fight climate change in other parts of the world.
Beaver restoration projects
Two of the climate-adaptive beaver restoration projects are taking place in the Methow Valley and Puget Sound.
Methow Valley is a dry landscape that witnesses lots of wildfires which are declining snowpack and glacial melt. The Methow Project traps and relocates beavers in the mountains of Central Washington, where they build dams and create ponds to compensate for the loss of snowpack and glacial melt.
The population of salmon has been declining all over America due to dams, overfishing, and habitat loss. Beaver ponds provide the ideal habitat for salmon, and thus beavers are reintroduced on the Puget Sound to recreate salmon habitats and support the salmon industry.
Despite their extraordinary services to the ecosystem, beavers are still relentlessly trapped and killed every year—only because they're considered a nuisance. In 2020, between 1000 and 2,500 beavers were trapped across the States. This is problematic as they maintain wetlands, drought, and wildfire, sequestering carbon and supporting biodiversity. It's time we start working with beavers in our fight against climate change.
Nida Riaz is a freelance blogger based in Pakistan. She started writing about her passion for the environment when the world came to a stop in early 2020.
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