Within the western Great Lakes (WGL) U.S. region (Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin), the ecological impacts that North American beavers (Castor canadensis) have on cold- water streams are generally considered to negatively affect salmonid populations where the two taxa interact. Here, we review the history of beaver-salmonid interactions within the WGL region, describe how this relationship and management actions have evolved over the past century, and review all published studies from the region that have evaluated beaver-salmonid interactions. Our review suggests the impact beavers have varies spatially and temporally, depending on a variety of local ecological characteristics. We found beaver activity is often deleterious to salmonids in low-gradient stream basins, but generally beneficial in high- gradient basins; and ample groundwater inputs can offset the potential negative effects of beavers by stabilizing the hydrologic and thermal regimes within streams. However, there was an obvious lack of empirical data and/or experimental controls within the reviewed studies, which we suggest emphasizes the need for more data-driven beaver-salmonid research in the WGL region. Resource managers are routinely faced with an ecological dilemma between maintaining natural environmental processes within cold-water ecosystems and conducting beaver control for the benefit of salmonids, and this dilemma is further complicated when the salmonids in question are a non-native species. We anticipate future beaver-salmonid research will lead to a greater understanding of this ecologically-complex relationship that may better inform managers when and where beaver control is necessary to achieve the desired management objectives. Understanding how wildlife populations respond to density-dependent (DD) and density- independent (DI) factors is critically important for wildlife management and research, as this knowledge can allow us to predict population responses to forcing mechanisms such as climate, predation, and exploitation. Recent advancements in statistical methods have allowed researchers to disentangle the relative influence each factor has on wildlife population dynamics, but this work is ongoing. Using a long-term dataset collected from 1975 to 2002, we sought to evaluate the relative influence DD and a suite of covariates (weather, harvest, habitat quality, and wolf [Canis lupus] predation) had on annual rates of change in the number of beaver (Castor canadensis) colonies among 15 populations in northern Minnesota, USA. We modeled changes in beaver colony densities using a discrete-time Gompertz model within a Bayesian inference framework, and compared model performance among three global models using Deviance Information Criterion (DIC) widely available information criterion (WAIC): a DI model without covariates; a DD model without covariates; and a DD model with covariates. Our results provide strong evidence for compensatory (negative) DD within beaver colony dynamics. We found no evidence that covariates related to harvest, wolf predation, or habitat quality significantly influenced beaver colony growth rates, but cold winters (lag-0), spring drought (lag-0), and fall drought conditions (lag-2) were correlated with greater colony growth rates. Despite strong evidence of the effect of environmental covariates on beaver colony dynamics, prediction of colony dynamics using these covariates showed only minimal improvements. We suggest the lack of improvement in prediction was the result of model over-fitting, indicating our significant covariate effects may not be biologically relevant. Our analysis demonstrates how reliance on information criterion values may lead to erroneous conclusions in time-series analyses, and using a hindcasting approach like the one we present here may help determine whether model results are biologically relevant or merely statistically significant. Our results highlight the importance of long-term monitoring programs for evaluating the efficacy of predictive ecological models. That beaver populations are primarily intrinsically regulated has important management implications depending on whether the objectives concern eradicating beavers from unwanted regions, mitigating conflicts, or facilitating rewilding or colonization efforts.
University of Minnesota M.S. thesis. 2019. Major: Integrated Biosciences. Advisor: Steve Windels. 1 computer file (PDF); 114 pages.
Factors Influencing Beaver (Castor Canadensis) Population Fluctuations, And Their Ecological Relationship With Salmonids.
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