Over the past several centuries, the population of North American Beaver has been dramatically reduced through fur trapping. As a result, the geomorphic impacts long-term beaver occupancy and activity can have on fluvial systems have been lost, both from the landscape and from our collective memory such that physical and biological models of floodplain system function neither consider nor have the capacity to incorporate the role beaver can play in structuring the dynamics of streams. Concomitant with the decline in beaver populations was an increasing pressure on streams and floodplains through human activity, placing numerous species of stream rearing fishes in peril, most notably the ESA listing of trout and salmon populations across the entirety of the Western US. The rehabilitation of stream systems is seen as one of the primary means by which population and ecosystem recovery can be achieved, yet the methods of stream rehabilitation are applied almost exclusively with the expected outcome of a static idealized stream planform, occasionally with an acknowledgement of restoring processes rather than form and only rarely with the goal of a beaver dominated riverscape. We have constructed an individual based model of trout and beaver populations that allows the exploration of fish population dynamics as a function of stream habitat quality and quantity. We based the simulation tool on Bridge Creek (John Day River basin, Oregon) where we have implemented a large-scale restoration experiment using wooden posts to provide beavers with stable platforms for dam building and to simulate the dams themselves. Extensive monitoring captured geomorphic and riparian changes, as well as fish and beaver population responses; information we use to parameterize the model as to the geomorphic and fish response to dam building beavers. In the simulation environment, stream habitat quality and quantity can be manipulated directly through rehabilitation actions and indirectly through the dynamics of the co-occurring beaver population. The model allowed to us to ask questions critical for designing restoration strategies based on dam building beaver activity, such as what beaver population growth rate is required to develop and maintain floodplain connectivity in an incised system, or what beaver population size is required to increase juvenile steelhead production? The model was sensitive to several variables including beaver colony size, dams and colony dynamics and site fidelity, and thus highlights further research needs to fill critical information gaps.
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/joseph_wheaton/70/