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Appears in Collections:Biological and Environmental Sciences eTheses
Title: Ecological effects of the feeding and construction activities of the Eurasian beaver (Castor fiber) in Scotland: Implications for reintroduction.
Author(s): Jones, Kevin Christopher
Supervisor(s): Gilvear, D., (David)
Willby, Nigel
Gaywood, Martin
Keywords: beaver
ecosystem engineer
keystone species
Issue Date: Sep-2006
Publisher: University of Stirling
Abstract: Beavers have been described as a “keystone species” and “ecosystem engineers”, and in this dual role have great potential to physically modify their environment through tree-felling, foraging and construction activities. The resultant change in habitat heterogeneity can affect the flora and fauna that share the habitat with them. There has been recent interest in reintroducing the Eurasian beaver to the United Kingdom after an absence of over 400 years. To date, no research (aside from this thesis) has focussed on beaver ecology and behaviour in Scotland. This study has investigated the ecological effects of a small number of beavers in two enclosed but semi-natural Scottish sites at Bamff in Perthshire. The research conducted over a three-year period, with particular emphasis on the effects of tree-felling, foraging and construction activities. Trees were felled for both dietary and construction purposes, with felling rates being influenced by habitat availability, quality and the degree of habitat modification required. Highest rates were evident during the initial colonisation period of marginal sites (c. >300 trees / beaver / calendar year), and lowest rates in later years of occupation of more optimal sites (c. 55 – 70 trees / beaver / calendar year). Preferences were generally for willow and aspen trees, with conifers almost entirely avoided, and smaller trees preferred over larger ones. Proximity of trees to waterbodies was also an important factor, with nearer trees favoured, and generally most felling occurred within 50 m of water. Such behaviour followed the principles of optimal central place foraging. These preferences were less predictable however when intense construction activity was undertaken, with larger trees preferred and generic preferences for deciduous trees apparently invalid. In such cases, close proximity to the construction site was of prime importance. Increased cover of herbaceous plant species was observed in beaver-created canopy gaps in riparian woodland, whilst macrophyte diversity within waterbodies increased slightly in areas of herbaceous grazing. The diversity of terrestrial ground invertebrates was highest in areas of heavy tree-felling, and invertebrate richness and abundance was greatest in areas of herbaceous grazing under an intact tree-canopy. Furthermore, the abundance, diversity and richness of macroinvertebrate communities were increased by beaver-generated woody debris in ponds and streams. Overall, 30% of all macroinvertebrate species collected were found only in beaver-affected areas, due to the refugia and food supply provided by beaver dams, caches and lodges, as well as hydrological effects of these structures. These results are discussed with reference to future plans to return the beaver to Scotland. The habitat usage and modification of riparian ecosystems in northern Britain is likely to be similar to that found in this study, and the results are believed to be relevant, applicable and transferable to many areas of Scotland.
Type: Thesis or Dissertation
Affiliation: School of Natural Sciences
Biological and Environmental Sciences

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