Beavers: our best allies against global warming
Against global warming : What if we told you that beavers could help fight climate change? Only by spending most of their time building dams! These little natural engineers need water high enough to build an underwater entrance to their shelters to be safe. And that’s it! Without knowing it, they contribute to fight effectively against certain consequences of global warming and forest fires.
Several studies have demonstrated the important usefulness of beavers, particularly in the United States where they are present in greater numbers. In an experiment published in June 2022, researchers inserted 69 beavers into 13 tributaries of the Skykomish River in Washington State to study the effects of their presence on water temperature.
Over the next year, rivers downstream of the rodent dams experienced a 2.3°C drop in temperature.
By damming, beavers raise the water level. With a structure made of branches and other pieces of wood, the current digs into the riverbed, further increasing the depth of the reservoir. The deeper the water is, the colder it is. Eureka! This is the solution against global warming !
Against global warming : Lowering the water temperature naturally
To explain, when the water meets the dam, some of the surface water goes down, mixes with the water at the bottom, and the whole river is cooled. This drop in temperature is very beneficial during heat waves, a climatic phenomenon that is becoming more and more regular and worrisome.
“This is especially important for temperature-sensitive species like salmon and trout,” hydrology professor Emily Fairfax tells Vox.
And it’s not just underwater species that benefit from beavers. The water in the dams’ ponds evaporates because of the heat in the air, but since the air is cooler, the evaporated water acts as a natural air conditioner. Thus, thanks to these small rodents you can gain three to five degrees!
Raising the water level also has many benefits. The beaver dams make the rivers overflow and flood the surrounding area. This allows plants to be irrigated all year round, even in the hot summer months. Thus, the area around the dams is less prone to fire. In the event of a forest fire, they constitute relatively protected areas that can serve as a refuge for the surrounding animals.
A fire break par excellence
Beavers not only lower the temperature of the water and the atmosphere, they are also a real asset for forest fires! Thanks to their small refuges, they are fireproof for many species, so they are indispensable during the forest fire season.
By building dams, digging canals and forming pools, beavers irrigate the river corridor and create a refuge for plants and animals. In some cases, rodent engineering can even cut off fires as they advance.
For decades, scientists have observed that the Canadian beaver (Castor canadensis) provides a host of ecological benefits across its range from northern Mexico to Alaska.
Ponds and wetlands created by beavers have even been shown to filter water pollution, help salmon, sequester carbon and limit flooding. Researchers have long suspected that these flat-tailed architects provide one last crucial service: slowing the progress of forest fires.
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