Globally, greenhouse gas budgets are dominated by natural sources, and aquatic ecosystems are a prominent source of methane (CH4) to the atmosphere. Beaver (Castor canadensis and Castor fiber) populations have experienced human-driven change, and CH4 emissions associated with their habitat remain uncertain. This study reports the effect of near extinction and recovery of beavers globally on aquatic CH4 emissions and habitat. Resurgence of native beaver populations and their introduction in other regions accounts for emission of 0.18–0.80 Tg CH4 year−1 (year 2000). This flux is approximately 200 times larger than emissions from the same systems (ponds and flowing waters that became ponds) circa 1900. Beaver population recovery was estimated to have led to the creation of 9500–42 000 km2 of ponded water, and increased riparian interface length of >200 000 km. Continued range expansion and population growth in South America and Europe could further increase CH4 emissions.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Anderson, C.B., C.R. Griffith, A.D. Rosemond, R. Rozzi, and O. Dollenz. 2006. The effects of invasive North American beavers on riparian plant communities in Cape Horn, Chile—Do exotic beavers engineer differently in sub-Antarctic ecosystems? Biological Conservation 128: 467–474.
Bastviken, D., L.J. Tranvik, J.A. Downing, P.M. Crill, and A. Enrich-Prast. 2011. Freshwater methane emissions offset the continental carbon sink. Science 331: 50.
Bluzma, P. 2003. Beaver abundance and beaver site use in a hilly landscape (eastern Lithuania). Acta Zoologica Lituanica 13: 8–14.
Bridgham, S.D., H. Cadillo-Quiroz, J.K. Keller, and Q. Zhuang. 2013. Methane emissions from wetlands: Biogeochemical, microbial, and modeling perspectives from local to global scales. Global Change Biology 19: 1325–1346.
Bubier, J.L., T.R. Moore, and N.T. Roulet. 1993. Methane emissions from wetlands in the midboreal region of northern Ontario, Canada. Ecology 74: 2240–2254.
Butler, D.R., and G.P. Malanson. 1995. Sedimentation rates and patterns in beaver ponds in a mountain environment. Geomorphology 13: 255–269.
Butler, D.R., and G.P. Malanson. 2005. The geomorphic influences of beaver dams and failures of beaver dams. Geomorphology 71: 48–60.
Cole, J.J., Y.T. Prairie, N.F. Caraco, W.H. McDowell, L.J. Tranvik, R.G. Striegl, C.M. Duarte, P. Kortelainen, et al. 2007. Plumbing the global carbon cycle: integrating inland waters into the terrestrial carbon budget. Ecosystems 10: 171–184.
Collen, P., and R.J. Gibson. 2001. The general ecology of beavers (Castor spp.), as related to their influence on stream ecosystems and riparian habitats, and the subsequent effects on fish—A review. Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries 10: 439–461.
Commission for Environmental Cooperation. 1997. Ecological regions of North America. Montreal: Commission for Environmental Cooperation. 60.
Dacey, J.W.H., and M.J. Klug. 1979. Methane efflux from lake sediments through water lillies. Science 203: 1253–1255.
Danilov, P.I., 1995. Canadian and European beavers in Russian Northwest. In The third Nordic beaver symposium, 10–16.
Dove, A.E. 1995. Methane dynamics of a northern boreal beaver pond. MSc. Montreal: McGill University.
Downing, J.A., J.J. Cole, C.M. Duarte, J.J. Middelburg, J.M. Melack, Y.T. Prairie, P. Kortelainen, R.G. Striegl, et al. 2012. Global abundance and size distribution of streams and rivers. Inland Waters 2: 229–236.
Ford, T.E., and R.J. Naiman. 1988. Alteration of carbon cycling by beaver—Methane evasion rates from boreal forest streams and rivers. Canadian Journal of Zoology 66: 529–533.
Gurnell, A.M. 1998. The hydrogeomorphological effects of beaver dam-building activity. Progress in Physical Geography 22: 167–189.
Halley, D.J., and F. Rosell. 2003. Population and distribution of European beavers (Castor fiber). Lutra 46: 91–101.
Halley, D.J., F. Rosell, and A. Saveljev. 2012. Population and distribution of Eurasian beaver (Castor fiber). Baltic Forestry 18: 168–175.
Hartman, G. 1994. Long-term population development of a reintroduced beaver (Castor fiber) population in Sweden. Conservation Biology 8: 713–717.
Jarema, S.I., J. Samson, B.J. McGill, and M.M. Humphries. 2009. Variation in abundance across a species’ range predicts climate change responses in the range interior will exceed those at the edge: A case study with North American beaver. Global Change Biology 15: 508–522.
Le Mer, J., and P. Roger. 2001. Production, oxidation, emission and consumption of methane by soils: A review. European Journal of Soil Biology 37: 25–50.
Lelieveld, J., P.J. Crutzen, and F.J. Dentener. 1998. Changing concentration, lifetime and climate forcing of atmospheric methane. Tellus 50B: 128–150.
Lizarralde, M.S. 1993. Current status of the introduced beaver (Castor canadensis) population in Tierra del Fuego, Argentina. AMBIO 22: 351–358.
McComb, W.C., J.R. Sedell, and T.D. Buchholz. 1990. Dam-site selection by beavers in an eastern Oregon basin. Great Basin Naturalist 50: 273–281.
Moore, T.R., and N.T. Roulet. 1995. Methane emission from Canadian peatlands. In Soils and global change, R. Lal, J. Kimble, E. Levine and B. A. Stewart, 153–164. Boca Raton: CRC Press.
Moore, T.R., A. De Young, J.L. Bubier, E.R. Humphreys, P.M. Lafleur, and N.T. Roulet. 2011. A multi-year record of methane flux at the Mer Bleue Bog, southern Canada. Ecosystems 14: 646–657.
Naiman, R.J., J.M. Melillo, and J.E. Hobbie. 1986. Ecosystem alteration of boreal forest streams by beaver (Castor canadensis). Ecology 67: 1254–1269.
Naiman, R.J., T. Manning, and C.A. Johnston. 1991. Beaver population fluctuations and tropospheric methane emissions in boreal wetlands. Biogeochemistry 12: 1–15.
Nisbet, E.G. 1989. Some northern sources of atmospheric methane: production, history, and future implications. Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences 26: 1603–1611.
Novak, M. 1999. Beaver. In Wild furbearer management and conservation in North America, M. Novak, J. A. Baker, M. E. Obbard, and B. Malloch, 282–312. Queen’s Printer for Ontario.
Nyssen, J., J. Pontzeele, and P. Billi. 2011. Effect of beaver dams on the hydrology of small mountain streams: Example from the Chevral in the Ourthe Orientale basin, Ardennes, Belgium. Journal of Hydrology 402: 92–102.
Packalen, M.S., S.A. Finkelstein, and J.W. McLaughlin. 2014. Carbon storage and potential methane production in the Hudson Bay Lowlands since mid-Holocene peat initiation. Nature Communications 5: 1–8.
Parkes, J.P., J. Paulson, C.J. Donlan, and K. Campbell. 2008. Control of North American beavers in Tierra del Fuego: Feasibility of eradication and alternative management options. Landcare Research, LC0708/084, Lincoln, NZ.
Payette, S., A. Delwaide, M. Caccianiga, and M. Beauchemin. 2004. Accelarated thawing of subarctic peatland permafrost over the last 50 years. Geophysical Research Letters 31: L18208.
Pupininkas, S. 1999. The state of the beaver (Castor fiber) population and characteristics of beaver sites in eastern Lithuania. Acta Zoologica Lituanica 9: 20–26.
Roulet, N.T., R. Ash, and T.R. Moore. 1992. Low boreal wetlands as a source of atmospheric methane. Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres 97: 3739–3749.
Roulet, N.T., P.M. Crill, N.T. Comer, A. Dove, and R.A. Boubonniere. 1997. CO2 and CH4 flux between a boreal beaver pond and the atmosphere. Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres 102: 29313–29319.
Rudd, J.W.M., A. Furutani, R.J. Flett, and R.D. Hamilton. 1976. Factors controlling methane oxidation in shield lakes: the role of nitrogen fixation and oxygen concentration. Limnology and Oceanography 21: 357–364.
Ruedemann, R., and W.J. Schoonmaker. 1938. Beaver dams as geologic agents. Science 88: 523–525.
Solomon, S., D. Qin, M. Manning, Z. Chen, M. Marquis, K.B. Averyt, M. Tignor, and H.L. Miller. 2007. Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Turetsky, M.R., A. Kotowska, J.L. Bubier, N.B. Dise, P.M. Crill, E.R.C. Hornibrook, K. Minkkinen, T.R. Moore, et al. 2014. A synthesis of methane emissions from 71 northern, temperate, and subtropical wetlands. Global Change Biology 20: 2183–2197.
Ulevičius, A., M. Jasiulionis, N. Jakštienė, and V. Žilys. 2009. Morphological alteration of land reclamation canals by beavers (Castor fiber) in Lithuania. Estonian Journal of Ecology 58: 126–140.
van Hulzen, J.B., R. Segers, P.M. van Bodegom, and P.A. Leffelaar. 1999. Temperature effects on soil methane production: an explanation for observed variability. Soil Biology & Biochemistry 31: 1919–1929.
Verpoorter, C., T. Kutser, D.A. Seekell, and L.J. Tranvik. 2014. A global inventory of lakes based on high-resolution satellite imagery. Geophysical Research Letters 41: 6396–6402.
Westbrook, C.J., D.J. Cooper, and B.W. Baker. 2006. Beaver dams and overbank floods influence groundwater–surface water interactions of a Rocky Mountain riparian area. Water Resources Research 42: 1–12.
Weyhenmeyer, C.E. 1999. Methane emissions from beaver ponds: Rates, patterns, and transport mechanisms. Global Biogeochemical Cycles 13: 1079–1090.
Wright, J.P. 2002. An ecosystem engineer, the beaver, increases species richness at the landscape scale. Oecologica 132: 96–101.
Yavitt, J.B., L.L. Angell, T.J. Fahey, C.P. Cirmo, and C.T. Driscoll. 1992. Methane fluxes, concentrations, and production in two Adirondack beaver impoundments. Limnology and Oceanography 37: 1057–1066.
Zurowski, W., and B. Kasperczyk. 1986. Characteristics of a European beaver population in the Suwalki Lakeland. Acta Theriologica 31: 311–325.
Zurowski, W., and B. Kasperczyk. 1988. Effects of reintroduction of European beaver in the lowlands of the vistula basin. Acta Theriologica 33: 325–338.
This work was supported by a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Postdoctoral Fellowship awarded to the lead author. Additional support was provided by a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Discovery Grant and by the Global Institute for Water Security. Comments on an earlier version of the paper from Shaun Watmough and three anonymous reviewers helped improve the final version and were greatly appreciated.
Electronic supplementary material
Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.
About this article
Cite this article
Whitfield, C.J., Baulch, H.M., Chun, K.P. et al. Beaver-mediated methane emission: The effects of population growth in Eurasia and the Americas. AMBIO 44, 7–15 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13280-014-0575-y
- Beaver ponds
- Castor canadensis
- Castor fiber
- Methane efflux
- Population recovery