Beaver-mediated methane emission: The effects of population growth in Eurasia and the Americas

Abstract

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.

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Acknowledgments

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.

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Correspondence to Colin J. Whitfield.

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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

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Keywords

  • Beaver ponds
  • Castor canadensis
  • Castor fiber
  • Methane efflux
  • Population recovery