Smokey the Beaver: beaver-dammed riparian corridors stay green during wildfire throughout the western United States

Emily Fairfax, Andrew Whittle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Scopus citations

Abstract

Beaver dams are gaining popularity as a low-tech, low-cost strategy to build climate resiliency at the landscape scale. They slow and store water that can be accessed by riparian vegetation during dry periods, effectively protecting riparian ecosystems from droughts. Whether or not this protection extends to wildfire has been discussed anecdotally but has not been examined in a scientific context. We used remotely sensed Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) data to compare riparian vegetation greenness in areas with and without beaver damming during wildfire. We include data from five large wildfires of varying burn severity and dominant landcover settings in the western United States in our analysis. We found that beaver-dammed riparian corridors are relatively unaffected by wildfire when compared to similar riparian corridors without beaver damming. On average, the decrease in NDVI during fire in areas without beaver is 3.05 times as large as it is in areas with beaver. However, plant greenness rebounded in the year after wildfire regardless of beaver activity. Thus, we conclude that, while beaver activity does not necessarily play a role in riparian vegetation post-fire resilience, it does play a significant role in riparian vegetation fire resistance and refugia creation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere02225
JournalEcological Applications
Volume30
Issue number8
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 2020
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was conducted with Government support under and awarded by Department of Defense, Air Force Office of Scientific Research, National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate (NDSEG) Fellowship, 32 CFR 168a. Emily Fairfax also received support from the Birkeland Graduate Scholarship and the Penny Patterson Graduate Scholarship. Andrew Whittle received support from the University of Colorado Boulder Department of Geological Sciences. We thank Suzanne Fouty for her support during the initial drafting of this manuscript. We thank the editors and reviewers for their thoughtful suggestions and feedback. Author contributions: Andrew Whittle, methodology (equal); Emily Fairfax, methodology (equal), conceptualization (lead), formal analysis (lead), writing (lead). The authors do not have any conflicts of interest.

Funding Information:
This research was conducted with Government support under and awarded by Department of Defense, Air Force Office of Scientific Research, National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate (NDSEG) Fellowship, 32 CFR 168a. Emily Fairfax also received support from the Birkeland Graduate Scholarship and the Penny Patterson Graduate Scholarship. Andrew Whittle received support from the University of Colorado Boulder Department of Geological Sciences. We thank Suzanne Fouty for her support during the initial drafting of this manuscript. We thank the editors and reviewers for their thoughtful suggestions and feedback. Author contributions: Andrew Whittle, methodology (equal); Emily Fairfax, methodology (equal), conceptualization (lead), formal analysis (lead), writing (lead). The authors do not have any conflicts of interest.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 by the Ecological Society of America

Keywords

  • beaver
  • burn
  • dam
  • drought
  • Normalized Difference Vegetation Index
  • remote sensing
  • riparian
  • vegetation
  • wildfire

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