Waddling waves of beavers swaying north alter the environment

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Climate change isn’t just creating more extreme weather events like wildfires and hurricanes – scientists say beavers have altered their environment and are also contributing to accelerating global warming.

Using satellite images and older aerial photographs, scientists have discovered that North American beavers moved further north into the arctic tundra of Alaska. They have created over 12,000 ponds in western Alaska, which is double the number of beaver ponds in the past 20 years.

This is dangerous, because beavers are considered a key species capable of strongly influencing streams, rivers and lakes in North America, but also in Europe and South America. They are known to radically change the landscapes they inhabit by harvesting shrubs, saplings, and trees, which they use to build dams and inundate the surrounding landscapes which create a beaver-friendly aquatic world.

Ken Tape, an ecologist at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks and co-author of the new research, told the Guardian that, “These ponds absorb heat better, they change the hydrology of the area and the permafrost reacts to that. Beavers come from outside, impose themselves on the ecosystem and disturb it.


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Scientists are still trying to figure out what pushes so many beavers further north, believing climate change could be a factor as well. As the planet warms, temperatures in the Arctic, once a reliably frozen region, have succumbed to the heat. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that between October and December 2020, The Arctic recorded the hottest temperature on record dating from 1900 and it continues to heat more than twice as fast as the rest of the globe.

Warming ice means there is more watery habitat, which is exactly what beavers are looking for. Scientists also warned that thawing permafrost, permanently frozen soils common in high mountains and high latitudes like much of the Alaskan tundra, associated with beaver ponds would initially release carbon and methane. .

Releasing even more greenhouse gases into the environment would further exacerbate climate change.

Local communities in Alaska have also noted the abundance of beavers, and many are concerned about resources like fish, water quality, and access to boats. In a region of northwest Alaska, scientists have found that beavers are the dominant factor, at 66 percent, controlling the increase in the extent of surface water, which then thaws the underlying permafrost. that it submerges the vegetation of the tundra.

The Arctic Beaver Observation Network was created to understand the scale, dynamics and effects of beaver engineering in the arctic tundra. The group plans to discuss the issues facing Alaska at its first meeting in March this year.


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