Animals: They were here first
Beavers. Hardworking ecologists.
What are beavers good for? Ask that question to a farmer and you might get a negative response. Ask the same question to an ecologist, and you will get an earful as to why these creatures are important to the ecosystem. In fact, you could say that beavers are the original ecologists. I wanted to find out more about these industrious fellow inhabitants of our planet. I found a good explanation of their ecological habits at the website of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Here is an excerpt:
Beavers build dams that create habitat for themselves and many other animals and plants. In winter, deer and elk frequent beaver ponds to forage on shrubby plants that grow where beavers cut down trees for food or use to make their dams and lodges. Weasels, raccoons, and herons hunt frogs and other prey along the marshy edges of beaver ponds. Migratory waterbirds use beaver ponds as nesting areas and resting stops during migration. Ducks and geese often nest on top of beaver lodges since they offer warmth and protection, especially when lodges are formed in the middle of a pond. The trees that die as a result of rising water levels attract insects, which in turn feed woodpeckers, whose holes later provide homes for other wildlife.
I looked up more information and found a research paper from SUNY College at Cortland. Here are a couple of paragraphs that gave me a little more insight and appreciation for beavers, even referring to this animal as a disruptor. That made me think of people, like famous inventors, who had similar disruptive behaviors that in the end benefited society. I can imagine the little forest animals grumbling and complaining while the beavers are building the dams, then later, saying, "How nice to have such a lovely pond to enjoy!"
The Ecological Importance of Beavers
The North American beaver, Castor canadensis, is behaviorally unique among mammals. It is of very few who, solitarily or in low numbers, can significantly alter the environment in order to meet its needs for survival. It is this survival strategy and its influence on the geological, chemical and biological nature of the surrounding environment that results in profound effects on the ecology of inhabited areas. Due to its extensive role in ecological alteration, the beaver is referred to as an ecosystem engineer. Because such ecological alteration greatly influences species composition, beavers also qualify as keystone species.
Beavers are an important source of disturbance in natural ecosystems. By altering the geological structure of landscapes, they induce a chain of biotic and abiotic events that lead to increased habitat and species diversity. Indeed, the success of many species depends directly upon environmental conditions induced by beaver activity. The shift of habitat from forest streams to open ponds, shallow marshes and fertile meadows provides opportunity for the existence of a great diversity of life in areas that would otherwise remain static in their climax state.
Rossell, F., Bozser, O., Collen, P. and H. Parker. (2005) Ecological impact of beavers Castor fiber and Castor Canadensis and their ability to modify ecosystems.
Mammal Review. 35, 248-276.