Impacts of ecosystem engineers on riparian community biodiversity, structure and function
The widespread reforestation of the Northeastern United States has been accompanied by a reintroduction of beaver (Castor canadensis) throughout the region, resulting in profound changes to stream and meadow ecosystems. In contrast to the large body of research on beaver biology and their wetlands, impacts to the adjacent forest from these 'ecosystem engineers' are poorly understood. We are studying the dynamic relationship between landscape drivers of long-term site use by beavers and their reciprocal influence on forest communities adjacent to their ponds. At a SUNY-ESF research forest in the Adirondack Mountains of New York State, we are using a 30-year record of beaver lodge occupancy to (1) test a process-based model of landscape controls on the duration of beaver occupancy; and (2) quantify the spatially-varying impacts of beaver foraging on forest tree composition and structure. This research will help to better understand the widespread and long-term effects on forests from a keystone species that is increasing in influence throughout North American and Europe.
Click HERE for a summary of beaver impacts in the Adirondacks, and HERE to see how our work is being used to inform stream restoration approaches using beaver in the Western U.S.
Related publications and presentations: (* indicates student contributors)
Mahoney, M.*, J.C. Stella. (in review) Selective harvesting impacts in a northern forest ecosystem by Castor canadensis, a central place forager. Ecosystems.
Kua, Z.X.*, J.C. Stella, J.M. Farrell. (in review) Ecosystem engineer disturbance enhances plant diversity in wetlands subject to water regulation and biotic invasion. Ecosystems.
Harrison, A.M., J.C. Stella. Engineering the forest ecosystem: impacts on woody vegetation structure and composition by beaver, a central place forager. Oral presentation at the Annual Meeting of the Ecological Society of America, Pittsburgh, PA, August 2010. [abstract]
Beier C.M., Stella J.C., Dovçiak M., McNulty S.A. 2012. Local climatic drivers of changes in phenology at a boreal-temperate ecotone in eastern North America. Climatic Change DOI 10.1007/s10584-012-0455-z [pdf]