Quantifying the impact of beaver reintroduction on aquatic ecology.

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: Geography


Quantifying the aquatic ecological impact of beaver reintroduction is critical as the ecological status of many surface waters in the UK is poor and in need of restoration, having been degraded by multiple stressors over recent decades. Research around the world, in particular in North America, demonstrates that the reintroduction of beaver can enhance the aquatic ecology of freshwaters, ameliorating a wide range of ecosystem services, including salmonid habitat populations, as beavers enhance variability of surface water quality.

The research will quantify what the wide range of aquatic ecological impacts of beavers might be, in locations where beavers are both well established and in new locations where beavers will be reintroduced during the project. The student will be embedded within a number of partnerships studying the impact of beaver reintroduction where Beavers already exist: The River Otter Beaver Trial, the Mid-Devon Beaver Trial, The Cornwall Beaver Trial, the Forest of Dean Beaver Trial and also a number of sites where Beavers are yet to be reintroduced, allowing for baseline monitoring pre-beaver to be undertaken: The Plymouth Beaver Trial, The Knepp Estate Beaver project and the Cumbrian Beaver project. The involvement with these partnerships gives a unique opportunity to impact upon a wide range of project partners and stakeholders, including major landowners and statutory agencies, upon whom the research will directly impact.

The research will blend research techniques from aquatic ecology, ecohydrology and water resource management to address the following hypotheses:

1. Beaver activity has a positive impact on the ecological status of surface waters in terms of:
a. Numbers, size and diversity of fish species
b. Macroinvertebrate diversity and abundance
c. Aquatic vegetation diversity and abundance
d. Aquatic structure, including bed sediment composition and variability of channel bed structure at reach

2. Site-scale impacts of beaver activity across a range of ecosystems can be used to upscale and build a predictive tool to quantify the aquatic ecological change due to beaver behaviour at catchment scales.

The research project therefore represents a novel and innovative approach to understand the range of issues around beaver reintroduction which might impact aquatic ecology.


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