Wolves change wetland composition and re-colonize by killing ecosystem engineers

Beavers, one of nature’s most prolific ecosystem engineers, can be a major source of summer food for wolves in many northern ecosystems. By killing beavers, wolves alter wetland composition and colonization patterns in northern ecosystems, and thus all the important environmental processes associated with wetlands that the beaver has created. Credit: Voyageurs Wolf Project.

Beavers are some of the most prolific ecosystem engineers in the world, creating, maintaining and drastically altering wetlands in nearly every place they live. But what could be controlled by this geometry by beavers and affecting wetland formation in North America?

In a paper to be published on Friday in the magazine Science Advances, Researchers from the University of Minnesota’s Voyageurs Wolf Project and Voyageurs National Park noticed and demonstrated it Affects wetlands By killing beavers leaving their colonies to create new ponds.

Beavers are important ecosystem engineers who create wetlands around the world, store water and create habitats for many other species. This study documents that wolves alter wetland composition when they kill beavers that have left their homes and established their own dams and ponds.

Juvenile beavers disperse on their own and often create new ponds or repair and re-settle existing old ponds. By studying Patterns of creation and colonization along with Predation on beavers, project biologists, and co-authors Tom Gable and Austin Humex found that 84% of newly constructed and recolonized beaver ponds had been occupied with beavers for more than one year. But when a wolf kills a beaver that settles in a pond, such ponds are no longer active.

This relationship between wolves and dispersed beavers illustrates how wolves are closely related to the creation of wetlands across the northern ecosystem and all environmental processes that come from the wetlands.

“How do Gable, the leader of the Voyageurs Wolf Project, said ecosystems with influence have been of interest to scientists and the public for decades. “Because wolves are In northern Minnesota, beavers are the architects of the ecosystem, we knew there was the potential for wolves to affect ecosystems by killing beavers.

Researchers found that wolves can have this effect on wetlands without necessarily changing the abundance or behavior of beavers. This newly supported association between wolf predation, beavers ‘dispersal, and wetlands may have long-lasting impacts on northern landscapes and other species’ habitats. The Voyageurs Wolf Project examines the long-term implications of this relationship.

“In 2015, we documented a wolf killing a beaver dispersed in a newly created pond,” said Humix, a field biologist for the Voyageurs Wolf Project. “Within days of the wolf killing the beaver, the dam failed because there was no beaver left to maintain. Apparently the wolf prevented the beaver from turning this wooded area into a pond. This initial observation was remarkable and we realized we needed to know how wolves relate to wetland formation in the Voyageurs ecosystem.” Great. “

After five years of intense field work, Gable, Homecs and their colleagues estimate that wolves alter the creation of about 88 ponds annually and store more than 51 million gallons of water annually in the ecosystem of the major flight. Gabel, who visited the site in mid-September 2020, said the pond observed in 2015 had not been colonized by another beaver.

“Our work hints at the possibility that wolves may have a long-term impact on wetland formation and generating a habitat patch that supports many other species across landscapes,” said Joseph Bump, co-author and Joseph Bump, but we need to study this mechanism further. Associate Professor in the University’s Department of Fisheries, Wildlife and Biology.

Wolves and large predators are commonly thought to have major environmental impacts primarily by reducing their prey abundance or by altering their prey behavior through fear of predation, both of which allow predators to indirectly influence the lower parts of the food chain such as vegetation and songbirds. And other wildlife. Some research has even claimed that wolves influence river ecosystems through food chains, but this has been met with great skepticism and is still a hotly debated topic among scientists.

“ The fact that we have convincingly demonstrated that wolves can affect wetlands without necessarily changing abundance or behavior “It’s a really exciting discovery,” said co-author Shawn Johnson Pace, one of the project’s collaborators from the University of Manitoba.

“The ecosystem of The Great Voyageurs is situated in a flat landscape dominated by water and trees, creating ideal conditions that currently support some of the highest beaver density in North America,” said Steve Windels, researcher and co-author of Voyageurs National Park.

“Although there is no evidence that wolves limit the size of the Voyageurs’ beaver population, understanding the subtle and complex ways in which predators and prey affect each other and their environment is critical to fulfilling the National Park Service’s mission of protecting and preserving our resources for future generations.”

This study identified a new and unique way in which predators influence environmental processes, enriching our understanding of the diverse roles that predators play in ecosystems.

There are a number of good reasons for maintaining and restoring health This study should be useful to understand the full role and thus the value of predators, especially as ecosystem engineers eat, ”said Pamp.

Beavers are diverse forest areas

more information:

TD Gable el al. , “The huge impact of predation: Wolves alter wetland composition and colonization by killing ecosystem engineers,” Science Advances (2020). … .1126 / sciadv.abc5439

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Wolves alter wetland composition and re-colonize by killing ecosystem engineers (2020, November 13)
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