December 2021

An aerial view of ice forming on a beaver pond complex during late fall in northern Minnesota, USA. Ecosystem engineers are organisms that alter ecological processes by physically modifying their environment. Using beaver (Castor canadensis) engineering effects on surface water dynamics as a case study, in Johnson-Bice et al. we evaluate how ecosystem engineering effects scale and vary across space and time in relation to population density during and after population recovery. We show that beaver engineering has temporal and spatial scale-dependent effects on surface water dynamics, driven by density-dependent population dynamics and legacy effects resulting from the accumulation of beaver ponds on the landscape through time. At greater spatial scales, we found little temporal variation in the total area of surface water retained on the landscape, indicating beaver engineering generates stability in ecological processes at these scales. We suggest restoring beavers to landscapes may help advance numerous conservation and rewilding objectives within riparian ecosystems. Our study demonstrates that ecosystem engineering effects can be scale-dependent, indicating researchers should evaluate the ecological impact of engineers across diverse spatiotemporal scales to fully understand their functional roles in ecosystems. Photo credit: Tom Gable. Full Gold Open Access paper here.

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