The river discontinuum: beavers (Castor canadensis) and baseline conditions for restoration of forested headwaters

1024 681 Stroud Water Research Center

Burchsted, D., M.D. Daniels, R.M. Thorson, and J.C. Vokoun. 2010. Bioscience, 60(11): 908–921.

doi: 10.1525/bio.2010.60.11.7


Billions of dollars are being spent in the United States to restore rivers to a desired, yet often unknown, reference condition. In lieu of a known reference, practitioners typically assume the paradigm of a connected watercourse. Geological and ecological processes, however, create patchy and discontinuous fluvial systems. One of these processes, dam building by North American beavers (Castor canadensis), generated discontinuities throughout precolonial river systems of northern North America. Under modern conditions, beaver dams create dynamic sequences of ponds and wet meadows among free-flowing segments. One beaver impoundment alone can exceed 1000 meters along the river, flood the valley laterally, and fundamentally alter biogeochemical cycles and ecological structures. In this article, we use hierarchical patch dynamics to investigate beaver-mediated discontinuity across spatial and temporal scales. We then use this conceptual model to generate testable hypotheses addressing channel geomorphology, natural flow regime, water quality, and biota, given the importance of these factors in river restoration.

Give the Gift of Fresh Water

As you give thanks for the gifts in your life, we invite you to give the gift of water. Clean drinking water, good health, happy trout, productive soil, clean air, the simple joys of swimming, boating, fishing — our healthy freshwater ecosystems make these and so many other things possible.

Your donation today will help preserve and protect
the future of fresh water.