Beaver-mediated water table dynamics in a Rocky Mountain fen

Daniel J. Karran, Cherie J. Westbrook, Angela Bedard‐Haughn

Beaver dams are known to raise water tables in mineral soil environments but very little is known about their impact in wetlands, such as peatlands. Peatlands tend to have shallow water tables, and the position and tendency of the water table to fluctuate (i.e. stability) is a factor controlling the system's ability to store carbon and water. Many peatland environments, especially fens, offer ideal habitat for beaver and the potential for beaver dams to influence this link by manipulating water table dynamics requires investigation. Our objective was to determine the influence of beaver dams on water table dynamics of a Rocky Mountain fen. We monitored water tables in the peatland for four years while beaver dams were intact and two years after they were breached by an extreme flood event. We found that, because of the unique way in which dams were built, they connected the peatland to the stream and raised and stabilized already high water tables within a 150-m radius. Beaver-mediated changes to peatland water table regimes have the potential to enhance carbon sequestration and the peatland's ability to respond to external pressures such as climate change. Furthermore, beaver dams increased surface and groundwater storage, which has implications for regional water balances, especially in times of drought.
Daniel J. Karran, Cherie J. Westbrook, and Angela Bedard‐Haughn. 2017. Beaver-mediated water table dynamics in a Rocky Mountain fen. Ecohydrology, Volume 11, Issue 2, 11(2):e1923.
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