Trapping Conservation and Self-Reliance News

Assessing Controls on Sedimentation Rates and Sediment Organic Carbon Accretion in Beaver Ponds
Apr 29, 2024 09:06 ET


Beaver dams trap sediment, promote channel-floodplain connectivity, modify biogeochemical cycling and organic carbon (OC) storage, and influence geomorphic form. Beaver-related sediment accumulation has been investigated at longer timescales (e.g., > 1000 years) and shorter timescales (< 10 years), but we lack information on sedimentation and sediment-associated OC accretion rates over multiple decades in relatively persistent beaver ponds (10-100 years old). We coupled field surveys of 45 beaver ponds with historical aerial imagery and radiometric dating with 7Be, 210Pb, and 14C to calculate sedimentation rates, mean sediment depth, and sediment OC content at two study sites in the southern Rocky Mountains, USA. Sedimentation rates in beaver ponds (median = 5.7 cm yr-1, mean = 11.6 cm yr-1) decreased with pond age. Incised, single threaded reaches had greater variability in mean sediment depth compared to less incised reaches. In less incised reaches, mean sediment depth and beaver dam height increased with pond age, indicating more stable dams and depositional environments. Sediment OC content within beaver ponds (median = 0.8%, mean = 1.7%) increased with finer sediment grain size distributions. Sediment OC accretion rates in ponds ranged between 0.13 and 23 Mg C ha -1 per year. We used Monte Carlo simulations to estimate it would take ~100 years or more of uninhibited beaver activity for deposition to laterally reconnect adjacent terraces in the incised study reaches, a common objective within many stream restoration projects. Our findings show that beaver ponds in complex, multi-threaded reaches better retain fine sediment over longer timescales, highlighting the need to incorporate geomorphic context when considering whether beaver can help restore incised river channels and floodplain connectivity, retain fine sediment, and store OC on the landscape.

Keywords: beaver, critical zone, river corridors, fluvial geomorphology, sediment storage, rivers and the carbon cycle

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