Journal of Mammalian Evolution

, Volume 14, Issue 1, pp 1–35 | Cite as

Castorid Phylogenetics: Implications for the Evolution of Swimming and Tree-Exploitation in Beavers

  • Natalia RybczynskiEmail author
Original Paper


Beavers (Castoridae) are semiaquatic rodents that modify forest and aquatic habitats by exploiting trees as a source of food and building material. The capacity of beavers to transform habitats has attracted interest from a variety of researchers, including ecologists, geomorphologists and evolutionary biologists. This study uses morphological and behavioral evidence from the fossil record to investigate the evolutionary history of tree-exploitation and swimming in beavers. The findings suggest that both behaviors appeared within a single castorid lineage by the beginning of the Miocene, roughly 24 million years ago. Biogeographic results support the hypothesis that tree-exploitation evolved at high latitudes, possibly influenced by the development of hard winters.


Beaver Behavioral evolution Biogeography Castor Fossil Paleontology Phylogenetics Woodcutting 



I am enormously grateful to K. K. Smith and V. L. Roth (Duke University) for discussion and reading earlier drafts. I also thank A. Ballantyne, P. Baker, M. Cartmill, W. W. Hylander, D. Schmitt (Duke University), W. W. Korth (Rochester Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology, New York), W. McLellan (University of North Carolina, Wilmington) and C. R. Harington (Canadian Museum of Nature) for feedback during the preparation of this manuscript. I am indebted to the numerous museums who provided both kind hospitality and access to specimens. In particular I am grateful (in alphabetical order by institution) to: J. P. Alexander, R. Tedford, J. Meng (American Museum of Natural History, New York), K. Shepherd and M. Feuerstack (Canadian Museum of Nature, Ottawa), M. R. Dawson, A. Tabrum (Carnegie, Pittsburgh, USA), J. Agusti (Institut de Paleontologia “Miquel Crusafont”, Sabadell, Spain), D. Heinrich, R. Schoch (Museum für Naturkunde, Humboldt University, Berlin), P. Tassy, X. Filoreau (Museum National D’Histoire Naturelle, Paris, France), R.W. Purdy, D. Levin (National Museum of National History, Washington, DC), B. Engesser and staff (Natural History Museum, Basel, Switzerland), T. Engel (Naturhistorisches Museum Mainz), K. Heissig (Paläontologisches Museum München, Germany), G. Storch and T. Dahlmann (Senkenberg-Museum, Frankfurt, Germany), M. Hugueney (Université Claude Bernard Lyon 1, France), L. Martin, D. A. Burnham, K. Gobetz, and D. Maio (University of Kansas, Lawrence), M. Voorhies and G. Corner (University of Nebraska, Lincoln). This research was supported by funding from an Aleanne Webb Dissertation Improvement Grant (Duke University), Duke Travel Grant, Sigma-Xi Travel Grant, Polar Continental Shelf Project, and NSF Dissertation Improvement Grant IBN-0073119.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Earth Sciences/PaleobiologyCanadian Museum of NatureOttawaCanada

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