4 years ago

Can beaver impact promote river renaturalization? The example of the Raba River, southern Poland

Can beaver impact promote river renaturalization? The example of the Raba River, southern Poland
The European beaver (Castor fiber) was reintroduced in the Polish Carpathians in the 1980s after a few centuries of absence. It gradually colonized suitable habitats in the Raba River valley and elsewhere. The question arises as to whether beaver activity can play a role in the local improvement of hydromorphological conditions and spontaneous renaturalization of the Raba River channel. Field surveys were performed in morphodynamically and structurally homogeneous reaches of the river. Traces of beaver activity were identified and used to estimate the studied beaver population. Local beaver impact on the studied river channel was also determined. The Raba channel is trained along about 80% of its length and considerably incised. Traces of beavers activity were found in 16 out of 31 river reaches, mainly in the upper and lower river course. The study showed that relatively flat channel gradient, small maximum bed-material grain size, and high channel sinuosity favour beaver presence. The largest number of beaver habitats was identified in river reaches strongly altered by man and characterized by a uniform channel structure. Beaver impact on channel structure varies depending on differences of the river channel features in upper and lower reaches of the Raba River channel. In upper reaches, the impact of beaver activity (mostly dams) is reflected in increased lateral erosion, while slower water current reduces the tendency for bed degradation. In lower reaches, beaver impact is mostly limited to bank fragmentation (slides and burrows). Lateral erosion, accumulation of material at the toe of riverbanks, and wood debris accumulation all produce a local impact on river channel width. These beaver-initiated processes mostly alter artificially homogenized river reaches. Beavers may actually play a substantial role in future renaturalization of both upper and lower reaches of the Raba River.

Publisher URL: www.sciencedirect.com/science

DOI: S0048969717325962

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