Subalpine regions of the Canadian Rocky Mountains are expected to experience continued changes in hydrometeorological processes due to anthropogenically mediated climate warming. As a result, fresh water supplies are at risk as snowmelt periods occur earlier in the year, and glaciers contribute less annual meltwater, resulting in longer growing seasons and greater reliance on rainfall to generate runoff. In such environments, wetlands are potentially important components that control runoff processes, but due to their location and harsh climates their hydrology is not well studied. We used stable water isotopes of hydrogen and oxygen (δ2H and δ18O), coupled with MixSIAR, a Bayesian mixing model, to understand relative source water contributions and mixing within Burstall Wetland, a subalpine wetland (1900 m a.s.l.), and the larger Burstall Valley. These results were combined with climate data from the Burstall Valley to understand hydrometeorological controls on Burstall Wetland source water dynamics over spatiotemporal timescales. Our results show that the seasonal isotopic patterns within Burstall Wetland reflect greater reliance on snowmelt in spring and rainfall in the peak and post-growing season periods. We found a substantial degree of mixing between precipitation (rain and snow) and stored waters in the landscape, especially during the pre-growing season. These findings suggest that longer growing seasons in subalpine snow-dominated landscapes put wetlands at risk of significant water loss and increased evaporation rates potentially leading to periods of reduced runoff during the peak- growing season and in extreme cases, wetland dry out.
Wetlands in Montane and Subalpine Subregions are increasingly recognized as important hydrologic features that support ecosystem function. However, it is currently not clear how climate trends will impact wetland hydrological processes (e.g., evaporative fluxes) across spatiotemporal scales. Therefore, identifying the factors that influence wetland hydrologic response to climate change is an important step in understanding the sensitivity of these ecosystems to environmental change. We used stable water isotopes of hydrogen and oxygen (δ2H and δ18O), coupled with climate data, to determine the spatiotemporal variability in isotopic signatures of wetland source waters and understand the influence of evaporative fluxes on wetlands in the Kananaskis Valley. Our results show that the primary runoff generation mechanism changes throughout the growing season resulting in considerable mixing in wetland surface waters. We found that evaporative fluxes increased with decreasing elevation and that isotopic values became further removed from meteoric water lines during the late peak- and into the post-growing seasons. These findings suggest that a change in the water balance in favor of enhanced evaporation (due to a warmer and longer summer season than present) will not only lead to greater water loss from the wetlands themselves but may also reduce the water inputs from their catchments.
Beavers are a keystone species known to strategically impound streamflow by building dams. Beaver colonization involves upstream ponding; after abandonment, the dams degrade, and the ponds slowly drain. This ponding-draining cycle likely modifies peatland nutrient availability, which is an important control on vegetation distribution and productivity. We compared soil mineral nutrient supply patterns in a beaver-dammed peatland in the Canadian Rocky Mountains over the growing and senescence study seasons during 2020. We used a nested design, comparing nutrient supply with ion-exchange probes among a full beaver pond (FBP with deep and shallow ponding), a drained beaver pond (DBP at its centre and margin) and unimpacted fen (UF at hummock and hollow hydrologic zones). Overall, FBP had lower soil total inorganic nitrogen (TIN) and nitrate (NO3), and higher ammonium (NH4) and phosphorus (PO4) supplies compared to UF. Interestingly, beaver pond drainage tended to restore the nutrient supply to its original status. The patterns we found in nutrient supply were consistent between the growing and senescence seasons. The key drivers of nutrient dynamics were water table level and soil temperature at 5 cm depth (TSoil); however, the controls affected each of the nutrients differently. Deepening of the water table level and higher TSoil non-linearly increased TIN/NO3 but decreased NH4 and PO4. We suggest that the variations in peatland nutrient availabilities in response to the beaver’s ponding-draining cycle may support downstream ecosystem heterogeneity and plant community composition diversity at a longer time scale.
Beaver dam analogues (BDAs) are becoming an increasingly popular stream restoration technique. One ecological function BDAs might help restore is suitable habitat conditions for fish in streams where loss of beaver dams and channel incision has led to their decline. A critical physical characteristic for fish is stream temperature. We examined the thermal regime of a spring-fed Canadian Rocky Mountain stream in relation to different numbers of BDAs installed in series over three study periods (April–October; 2017–2019). While all BDA configurations significantly influenced stream and pond temperatures, single- and double-configuration BDAs incrementally increased stream temperatures. Single and double configuration BDAs warmed the downstream waters of mean maxima of 9.9, 9.3 °C by respective mean maxima of 0.9 and 1.0 °C. Higher pond and stream temperatures occurred when ponding and discharge decreased, and vice versa. In 2019, variation in stream temperature below double-configuration BDAs was lower than the single-configuration BDA. The triple-configuration BDA, in contrast, cooled the stream, although the mean maximum stream temperature was the highest below these structures. Ponding upstream of BDAs increased discharge and resulted in cooling of the stream. Rainfall events sharply and transiently reduced stream temperatures, leading to a three-way interaction between BDA configuration, rainfall and stream discharge as factors co-influencing the stream temperature regime. Our results have implications for optimal growth of regionally important and threatened bull and cutthroat trout fish species.
Beaver ( Castor canadensis and Castor fiber ) are regarded widely as ecosystem engineers and the dams they create are well-known for their ability to drastically alter the hydrology of rivers. As a result, beaver are increasingly being included in green infrastructure practices to combat the effects of climate change and enhance ecosystem resilience. Both drought and flood mitigation capabilities have been observed in watersheds with beaver dam structures; however, how dams possess contrasting mitigation abilities is not fully understood since most studies neglect to acknowledge variation in beaver dam structures. In this study, an extensive cross-site survey of the physical and hydrologic properties of beaver dams was conducted in the Canadian Rocky Mountains in Alberta. This research aimed to improve the understanding of the hydrology of beaver dams by categorizing dams using their intrinsic properties and landscape settings to identify fundamental patterns that may be applicable across landscape types. The dam flow type classification from Woo and Waddington (1990) was evaluated in this new context and adapted to include two new flow types. The survey of intrinsic beaver dam properties revealed significant differences in dam structure across different sites. Physical differences in dam structure altered the dynamics and variance of pond storage and certain dam attributes related to the landscape setting. For instance, dam material influenced dam height and water source influenced dam length. However, a closer analysis of large rain events showed that the physical structure of dams alters seasonal dynamics of pond storage but not the response to rain events. Overall, this research shows that beaver dams can be both structurally and hydrologically very different from each other. Establishing broadly applicable classifications is vital to understanding the ecosystem resilience and mitigation services beaver dams provide. • Beaver dams in Canadian Rockies are highly diverse structurally and hydrologically. • Beaver dams can be classified by their flow state. • Dam flow state relates to dam physical structure and landscape setting. • Dam hydrological effectiveness depends on flow state. • Important implications for nature-based solutions to climate change.
Beaver dam analogues (BDAs) are intended to simulate natural beaver dam ecohydrological functions including modifying stream hydrology and enhancing stream‐riparian hydrological connectivity. River restoration practitioners are proactively deploying BDAs in thousands of degraded streams. How various BDAs or their configurations impact stream hydrology and the riparian water table remains poorly understood. We investigated three types of BDA configurations (single, double and triple) in a spring‐fed Canadian Rocky Mountain stream over three study seasons (April–October; 2017–2019). All three BDA configurations significantly elevated the upstream stage. The deepest pools occurred upstream of the triple‐configuration BDAs (0.46 m) and the shallowest pools occurred upstream of the single‐configuration (0.36 m). Further, the single‐BDA configuration lowered stream stage and flow peaks below it but raised low flows. The double‐BDA configuration modulated flow peaks but had little influence on low flows. Unexpectedly, higher flow peaks and low flows were recorded below the triple‐BDA configuration, owing to groundwater seep. Similar to the natural beaver dam function, we observed an immediate water table rise in the riparian area after installation of the BDAs. The water table rise was greatest 2 m from the stream (0.14 m) and diminished with increasing lateral distance from the stream. Also noted was a reversal in the direction of flow between the stream and riparian area after BDA installation. Future research should further explore the dynamics of stream‐riparian hydrological connections under various BDA configurations and spacings, with the goal of identifying best practices for simulating the ecohydrological functions of natural beaver dams.
It is becoming increasingly popular to reintroduce beaver to streams with the hopes of restoring riparian ecosystem function or reducing some of the hydrological impacts of climate change. One of the risks of relying on beaver to enhance ecosystem water storage is that their dams are reportedly more apt to fail during floods which can exacerbate flood severity. Missing are observations of beaver dam persistence and water storage capacity during floods, information needed to evaluate the risk of relying on beaver as a nature-based flood solution. A June rainstorm in 2013 triggered the largest recorded flood in the Canadian Rocky Mountains west of Calgary, Alberta. We opportunistically recorded hydrometric data during the rainfall event at a beaver-occupied peatland that has been studied for more than a decade. We supplemented these observations with a post-event regional analysis of beaver dam persistence. Results do not support two long-held hypotheses—that beaver ponds have limited flood attenuation capacity and commonly fail during large flood events. Instead we found that 68% of the beaver dam cascade systems across the region were intact or partially intact after the event. Pond fullness, in addition to the magnitude of the water-sediment surge, emerged as important factors in determining the structural fate of dam cascade sequences. Beaver ponds at the instrumented site quickly filled in the first few hours of the rain event and levels were dynamic during the event. Water storage offered by the beaver ponds, even ones that failed, delayed downstream floodwater transmission. Study findings have important implications for reintroducing beaver as part of nature-based restoration and climate change adaptation strategies.
River management based solely on physical science has proven to be unsustainable and unsuccessful, evidenced by the fact that the problems this approach intended to solve (e.g., flood hazards, water scarcity, and channel instability) have not been solved and long‐term deterioration in river environments has reduced the capacity of rivers to continue meeting the needs of society. In response, there has been a paradigm shift in management over the past few decades, towards river restoration. But the ecological, morphological, and societal benefits of river restoration have, on the whole, been disappointing. We believe that this stems from the fact that restoration overrelies on the same physical analyses and approaches, with flowing water still regarded as the universally predominant driver of channel form and structural intervention seen as essential to influencing fluvial processes. We argue that if river restoration is to reverse long‐standing declines in river functions, it is necessary to recognize the influence of biology on river forms and processes and re‐envisage what it means to restore a river. This entails shifting the focus of river restoration from designing and constructing stable channels that mimic natural forms to reconnecting streams within balanced and healthy biomes, and so levering the power of biology to influence river processes. We define this new approach as biomic river restoration.
Mountain fens are limited in their spatial extent but are vital ecosystems for biodiversity, habitat, and carbon and water cycling. Studies of fen hydrological function in northern regions indicate the timing and magnitude of runoff is variable, with atmospheric and environmental conditions playing key roles in runoff production. How the complex ecohydrological processes of mountain fens that govern water storage and release as well as peat accumulation will respond to a warmer and less snowy future climate is unclear. To provide insight, we studied the hydrological processes and function of Sibbald fen, located at the low end of the known elevation range in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, over a dry period. We added an evapotranspiration function to the Spence hydrological function method to better account for storage loss. When frozen in spring and early summer, the fen primarily transmits water. When thawed, the fen's hydrological function switches from water transmission to water release, leading to a summertime water table decline of nearly 1 m. Rainfall events larger than 5 mm can transiently switch fen hydrological function to storage, followed by contribution, depending on antecedent conditions. The evapotranspiration function was dominant only for a brief period in late June and early July when rainfall was low and the ground was still partially frozen, even though evapotranspiration accounted for the largest loss of storage from the system. This research highlights the mechanisms by which mountain peatlands supply baseflow during drought conditions, and the importance of frozen ground and rainfall in regulating their hydrological function. The study has important implications for the sustainability of low elevation mountain fens under climate change.
If the aim of flood risk management (FRM) is to increase society’s resilience to floods, then a holistic treatment of flood risk is required that addresses flood prevention, defence, mitigation, preparation, and response and recovery. Progressing resilience-based management to flood risk requires both diversity and coordination of policy across multiple jurisdictions. Decision makers and the types of FRM policy decisions they make play a key role in implementing FRM policies and strategies that progress flood resilience. This paper explores how policy preferences held by FRM decision makers relate to the characteristics of resilient FRM policy. The research was conducted in three flood-prone provinces in western Canada using a multi-criteria analytical approach. The results show that while decision maker FRM priorities are similar across the Canadian Prairies, their preferred FRM policies differ. Further, preferred FRM policies were largely resistance-based and influenced at least as much by flood experiences and perceptions of flood risk as by more obvious administrative pressures such as cost, public acceptability, and environmental protection. Several observations emerge from these results for advancing a coordinated, diversified approach to FRM which is required for resilience, both for western Canada and for FRM more broadly.
Beavers ingeniously alter environments to suit their needs of predator protection and food access, creating widespread effects on surface waters throughout their range. Beaver are thus considered the quintessential ecosystem engineer. They “engineer” landscapes largely by building dams across low-order streams to retain water. Dam building changes a wide range of ecological, hydrologic, and geomorphic processes that transform rivers into complex wetland systems capable of supporting a diversity of aquatic and terrestrial species. Although less studied, beavers live in and can significantly impact landscape processes in large rivers, wetlands, and lakes and unexpected places like landslides, brackish deltas, and glacial discharge environments. The earliest works on beaver are from a time when beaver were very much still being trapped to supply the fashion market in Europe with pelts (c. late 1800s to early 1900s). Works from this period primarily document the natural history of beaver. Research interest in beaver waned for several decades, coincident with low beaver populations. In the 1980s and 1990s, however, researcher interest in beaver was again piqued, which led to a little over a decade of studies documenting a range of ecosystem effects of beaver. Research on beaver ecosystem engineering was reinvigorated again in the mid- to late-2000s, coincident with rewilding efforts in Europe, beaver use in stream restoration activities in the United States, and rapid spread of the exotic, invasive beaver population in Tierra del Fuego. This encyclopedia entry provides a summary of the hydrogeomorphic processes known to be beaver-mediated, as well as the state of knowledge of how beaver form stream valleys and shape wetland ecosystems. Included are brief annotations of key literature. Ecological and biogeochemical impacts of beaver ponds are extensive, but a full description of them are beyond the scope of this annotated bibliography. The topic could benefit from greater synergistic and integrative research among biologists, geomorphologists, ecologists, and hydrologists.
Major flood events are likely to happen more frequently and be more severe under changing land use and climatic conditions. Adapting to floods using resilience-based flood risk management (FRM) pol...
Hyporheic exchange is important in increasing stream water transit time through basins and enhancing redox-sensitive biogeochemical reactions influencing downstream water quality. Such exchange may be enhanced by beaver dams which are common throughout low order streams including those originating in peatlands. To understand the influence of beaver dams on hyporheic flows and biogeochemical properties, nitrogen (N), dissolved organic nitrogen (DOC) and N cycling rates were observed along a beaver dammed, third-order stream draining Canadian Rocky Mountain peatland. Beaver dams enlarged the hyporheric zone from ≤1.5 to ≥7.5 m. The looping hyporheic flow path created a zone of N and DOC depletion adjacent to the dams. As a result, nitrification rates were lowest in this zone. Where hyporheic flows exited the riparian area and flowed back to the stream channel downstream of a dam, the adjacent riparian area served as a source of N and DOC to the stream. Enhanced nutrient influx to streams owing to beaver dam modified hyporheic flow paths has implications for stream biogeochemical cycling and ecological integrity, which need further exploration.
Modeling nutrient transport during snowmelt in cold regions remains a major scientific challenge. A key limitation of existing nutrient models for application in cold regions is the inadequate representation of snowmelt, including hydrological and biogeochemical processes. This brief period can account for more than 80% of the total annual surface runoff in the Canadian Prairies and Northern Canada and processes such as atmospheric deposition, over-winter redistribution of snow, ion exclusion from snow crystals, frozen soils, and snowcovered area depletion during melt influence the distribution and release of snow and soil nutrients, thus affecting the timing and magnitude of snowmelt runoff nutrient concentrations.Research in cold regions suggests that nitrate (NO3) runoff at the field scale can be divided into five phases during snowmelt. In the first phase, water and ions originating from ion-rich snow layers travel and diffuse through the snowpack. This process causes ion concentrations in runoff to gradually increase. The second phase occurs when this snow ion meltwater front has reached the bottom of the snowpack and forms runoff to the edge-of-the-field (EOF). During the third and fourth phases, the main source of NO3 transitions from the snowpack to the soil. Finally, the fifth and last phase occurs when the snow has completely melted, and the thawing soil becomes the main source of NO3 to the stream.In this research, a process-based model was developed to simulate hourly export based on this five-phase approach. Results from an application in the Red River Basin of southern Manitoba, Canada shows that the model can adequately capture the dynamics and rapid changes of NO3 concentrations during this period at relevant temporal resolutions. This is a significant achievement to advance the current nutrient modeling paradigm in cold climates, which is generally limited to satisfactory results at monthly or annual resolutions. The approach can inform catchment-scale nutrient models to improve simulation of this critical snowmelt period.Nutrient exports Winter Snow Nitrate Agriculture Nutrient model
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.