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The reintroduction of Castor fiber in N.W. Italy
Aug 6, 2020 09:03 ET
The Castor fiber or Eurasian beaver can change its habitat by building dams and creating ponds. For this reason, Castor fiber is known as an “ecosystem engineer” for aquatic and riparian environments. Despite its ecological importance, at the beginning of the 20th century the population was reduced to only 1200 beavers in Europe and Asia, due to uncontrolled hunting. Recently, some reintroductions and translocations have partly re-established the population. In Italy, however, the beaver disappeared in the 16th century and no action has been taken despite the recommendation of the Council of Europe to perform a feasibility study.

This research evaluates beaver reintroduction and identifies suitable areas in Italy and, in particular, in the Piedmont region. In order to achieve this, a SWOT analysis combined with a Spatial Multicriteria Analysis was performed. Firstly, the zoological and ethological aspects concerning this rodent were studied, as well as the historical reasons that led to its disappearance in Italy and near extinction in Eurasia. Secondly, Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) of the territory were identified for beaver reintroduction. The SWOT analysis was implemented, as the starting point for the spatial multicriteria analysis. Thirdly, the Multicriteria Spatial Decision Support System (MC-SDSS) was structured into two criteria, i.e. Potentials and Criticalities, representing the spatialization of strengths and weaknesses. The final result of the MC-SDSS is a map showing suitable areas for beaver reintroduction in Piedmont. This map is the weighted sum of the maps of criticalities and potentialities, performed through a set of GIS operations and weighted through a pairwise comparison of criteria by experts.

The analysis was conducted for the Piedmont region, but the integrated approach and the set of criteria can also be applied in other regions. Moreover, this mixed-method approach takes into account the characteristics necessary for the choice of suitable beaver habitats and also includes economic and social aspects. Therefore, it is an improvement on the Habitat Suitability Index (HIS), generally used in reintroductions. The aspects considered in the analysis are fundamental for the future development of a shared action plan, which considers both technical and social motivations and acts for the long-term on a wide area.