Modeling intrinsic potential for beaver (Castor canadensis) habitat to inform restoration and climate change adaptation

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Through their dam-building activities and subsequent water storage, beaver have the potential to restore riparian ecosystems and offset some of the predicted effects of climate change by modulating streamflow. Thus, it is not surprising that reintroducing beaver to watersheds from which they have been extirpated is an often-used restoration and climate-adaptation strategy. Identifying sites for reintroduction, however, requires detailed information about habitat factors—information that is not often available at broad spatial scales. Here we explore the potential for beaver relocation throughout the Snohomish River Basin in Washington, USA with a model that identifies some of the basic building blocks of beaver habitat suitability and does so by relying solely on remotely sensed data. More specifically, we developed a generalized intrinsic potential model that draws on remotely sensed measures of stream gradient, stream width, and valley width to identify where beaver could become established if suitable vegetation were to be present. Thus, the model serves as a preliminary screening tool that can be applied over relatively large extents. We applied the model to 5,019 stream km and assessed the ability of the model to correctly predict beaver habitat by surveying for beavers in 352 stream reaches. To further assess the potential for relocation, we assessed land ownership, use, and land cover in the landscape surrounding stream reaches with varying levels of intrinsic potential. Model results showed that 33% of streams had moderate or high intrinsic potential for beaver habitat. We found that no site that was classified as having low intrinsic potential had any sign of beavers and that beaver were absent from nearly three quarters of potentially suitable sites, indicating that there are factors preventing the local population from occupying these areas. Of the riparian areas around streams with high intrinsic potential for beaver, 38% are on public lands and 17% are on large tracts of privately-owned timber land. Thus, although there are a large number of areas that could be suitable for relocation and restoration using beavers, current land use patterns may substantially limit feasibility in these areas.

Study Area

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Modeling intrinsic potential for beaver (Castor canadensis) habitat to inform restoration and climate change adaptation
Series title PLoS ONE
DOI 10.1371/journal.pone.0192538
Volume 13
Issue 2
Year Published 2018
Language English
Publisher PLoS
Contributing office(s) Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center
Description e0192538; 15 p.
Country United States
State Washington
Other Geospatial Snohomish River Basin
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