The Kid Should See This

Beaver dams and wildfire, a stop-motion demonstration

How do beaver dams change and improve their ecosystems and build climate resilience? This stop-motion short by ecohydrologist Emily Fairfax demonstrates how beaver dams slow down and store water in ponds, creating wetlands that are “uniquely resistant to disturbances like droughts and fire”. She uses this video as a visual “elevator pitch”—a summary ‘sales’ pitch that’s short enough to be told within an elevator ride—to explain her research. From her site:

I’ve been passionate about science since I was 3 years old. According to my mom, I told her that I wanted to walk on the rings of Saturn, but to not worry because I’d bring my car-seat to be safe. Although I now realize that walking on the rings of Saturn is not particularly feasible, my passion for scientific discovery and exploration has not abated. Ultimately, my interests fell less with what is happening on other planets, and more with understanding the physical processes that govern our own – Earth…

Beaver damming raises the water table, saturates nearby soil, and ponds large volumes of surface water throughout the American west. Water – unsurprisingly – is very difficult to burn. So how do landscape-scale networks of beaver dams impact the size and spread of wildfires? I’m combining historical accounts of beaver wetlands acting as firebreaks, hydrologic modeling, fire spread modeling, and beaver occupancy modeling to start answering the question: are beavers just nature’s engineer, or are they firefighters too?

beaver dam benefits
Read more about hydrology.

Then watch these videos about beavers: The Smartest Thing in Fur Pants, how living things change their environments, and Ecosystem Engineers: How do beavers build dams?

Also: Earth’s hydrosphere and geosphere and why do rivers curve?

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