Beavers (like SPREE’s mascot, Chompers!) are cute, funky looking creatures that have inspired human curiosity for centuries, but did you know that they play an essential role in our river ecosystems?
Beavers are considered a “keystone species,” meaning that their presence has a huge impact on the plants and animals around them. Beavers cut down trees near rivers to build large mud-and-stick-structures called dams; these “eco-engineers” cause all sorts of changes to their environment that support and sustain amazing biodiversity.
By blocking river flow, a beaver’s dam can create ponds or deeper channels of water. Many fish, like Colorado’s Greenback Cutthroat Trout, thrive in the cooler, deeper water created by beaver dams. Slower water flow also provides habitats for aquatic insects (like the caddisfly!), as well as safe spaces for creatures like frogs and turtles to have their babies
A beaver dam
In the dry American West, beaver dams create flooding that contributes to important wetlands. The moist and nutrient-rich soil along wetter river banks and riparian zones allows plants like the Cottonwood tree to thrive. More wetland plants means more habitats and food for birds and other animals!
Scientists have shown that humans benefit from beavers too! According to NPR, “beaver dams improve water quality, trap and store carbon — and in the aggregate could be a significant way of storing groundwater in dry climates.”
Many species (including humans!) rely on beaver-created habitats to survive and thrive; in fact, nearly half of our endangered species depend either partly or entirely on the influence of beavers on their wetland ecosystem. But one of our favorite things about beavers? We have them right here along the South Platte!
A beaver enjoying Confluence Park in Denver, CO
Next time you’re out in one of our parks, be sure to look out for signs of these awesome animals -- and if you are lucky enough to spot one, say thanks!