There has been more interest lately in the health of freshwater mammals, and more support for the belief that their decline signals doom for ours. That seems about right to me. And I can think of ONE freshwater mammal in particular that should be carefully protected.
Freshwater megafauna such as river dolphins, crocodilians and sturgeons play vital roles in their respective ecosystems. In a recent scientific publication, researchers of the Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries (IGB) in Berlin have teamed up with international colleagues to illustrate the factors that currently threaten these large vertebrates. The authors also call for a more comprehensive assessment on these large freshwater animals and for a more targeted conservation plan. Also, a wider range of freshwater species and freshwater ecosystems suffering from biodiversity decrease have the potential to benefit from such megafauna-based actions. Many large aquatic vertebrates, referred to as freshwater megafauna, cover long distances between their breeding and feeding grounds. To ensure their safe passage, they are dependent on free-flowing waters.
The mode of life of the Eurasian beaver and the North American beaver, for example, induces them to shape entire river courses, affecting not only biochemical and hydrological processes, but also in-stream and riparian assemblages; in the Everglades, the American alligator creates and maintains small ponds, providing habitats for a large number of plants and smaller animals. “The importance of freshwater megafauna for biodiversity and humans cannot be overstated,” stressed Fengzhi He together with colleagues from IUCN, the University of Tübingen and Queen Mary University of London, Fengzhi He describes in this publication which factors pose threats to freshwater megafauna. Besides the obstruction and fragmentation of water bodies following dam construction, these factors include overexploitation, environmental pollution, habitat destruction, species invasion and the changes According to the authors, megafauna species are highly susceptible to external factors owing to their long lifespan, large body size, late maturity and low fecundity.
Despite the fact that many megafauna species are under great threat, they have been largely neglected in previous research and conservation actions. Fengzhi He and his co-authors call for research focusing on the distribution patterns, life history and population dynamics of freshwater megafauna. Freshwaters are among the most endangered ecosystems on the planet, where biodiversity is declining faster than in marine and terrestrial realms. For this reason, it is all the more important to develop sustainable nature conservation strategies forfreshwater ecosystems and their megafauna.
We here at beaver central think Dr. He is absolutely right about this. Our freshwater heroes don’t get enough research. No one knew why our kits died in 2015 and no one knows anything about the population size in general. People like to study smaller species that fit conveniently in tanks in the laboratory. But science has largely forgotten the importance of field research, and how much can be learned just by observing the animals in person.
I don’t share his worry that beavers will be among the first to go. I think they proved their resilience on Mount St. Helen’s and at Chernobyl. Not to mention bouncing back after near extermination once. Beavers are very unusual freshwater fauna because they are NOT the top of the food chain and can travel long distances over land. I am sure they will outlive us.
Especially since we happen to be the greatest threat to their existence, and have been for 1000 years. They might actually be better off.