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Relocated beaver can increase water storage and decrease stream temperature in headwater streams

July 19, 2022

Many areas are experiencing increasing stream temperatures due to climate change, and some are experiencing reduced summer stream flows and water availability. Because dam building and pond formation by beaver can increase water storage, stream cooling, and riparian ecosystem resilience, beaver have been proposed as a potential climate adaption tool. Despite the large number of studies that have evaluated how beaver activity may affect hydrology and water temperature, few experimental studies have quantified these outcomes following beaver relocation. We evaluated changes in temperature and water storage following the relocation of 69 beaver into 13 headwater stream reaches of the Skykomish River watershed within the Snohomish River basin, Washington, USA. We evaluated how beaver dams affected surface and groundwater storage and stream temperature. Successful relocations created 243 m3 of surface water storage per 100 m of stream in the first year following relocation. Dams raised water table elevations by up to 0.33 m and stored approximately 2.4 times as much groundwater as surface water per relocation reach. Stream reaches downstream of dams exhibited an average decrease of 2.3°C during summer base-flow conditions. We also assessed how dam age, condition, maintenance frequency, and pond morphology influenced stream temperature at naturally colonized wetland complexes. Our findings demonstrate that dam building can increase water storage and reduce stream temperatures in the first year following successful beaver relocation. Fluvial and floodplain morphology of candidate reaches for relocation is an important consideration because it determines the type and magnitude of response. Relocation to reaches with existing small, abandoned ponds may address thermal criteria by conversion from warming to cooling reaches, whereas relocation within large, abandoned complexes or vacant habitat may result in greater water storage. Although beaver relocation can be an effective climate adaptation strategy to retain more stable hydrologic regimes and water quality in our study area, there appear to be regionally specific environmental and geomorphic factors that influence how beaver affect water storage and temperature. More research is needed to investigate how and why these regional differences affect water storage and stream temperature response in beaver-influenced systems.

Publication Year 2022
Title Relocated beaver can increase water storage and decrease stream temperature in headwater streams
DOI 10.1002/ecs2.4168
Authors Benjamin J. Dittbrenner, Jason W. Schilling, Christian E. Torgersen, Joshua J. Lawler
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Ecosphere
Index ID 70233469
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center