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Ecosystem Services Provided by Beavers

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​Humans require certain ecosystem products, such as clean air, water, and food, in order to survive. Ecosystem services produced by beaver activity include water purification, moderation of extreme events (such as wildfires or droughts), habitat and biodiversity provision, nutrient cycling, greenhouse gas sequestration, recreational hunting and fishing, water supply, and recreation. Researchers are just beginning to analyse and quantify the ecosystem services that beavers provide.

A recent study conducted by researchers from the University of Helsinki found that beavers provide services worth $1.6 (recreational hunting and fishing services) to as much as $133 million (habitat and biodiversity services) to humans through the various ways in which they modify the environment. The study found that habitat and biodiversity, non-consumptive recreation, and moderation of extreme events are particularly valuable beaver-provided ecosystems services.

Another scholarly study evaluated services produced by beaver activity, including water purification, moderation of extreme events, habitat and biodiversity provision, nutrient cycling, greenhouse gas sequestration, recreational hunting and fishing, water supply, and non-consumptive recreation. According to the authors: "Each service we evaluated is worth millions to hundreds of millions of US dollars (USD) annually. Habitat and biodiversity provision (133 million USD), along with greenhouse gas sequestration (75 million USD), are particularly valuable services in absolute terms, while non-consumptive recreation (167 USD ha−1) and habitat and biodiversity provision (133 USD ha−1) have the largest annual per-hectare values. Our results can be used to broaden decision-making and management perspectives, as we offer value estimates to wildlife managers and municipality planners for assessing local site-specific beaver wetland values and the opportunities for their realization. Implementing Payments for Ecosystem Services schemes offer a concrete way for societies to benefit from beaver-produced services while concurrently compensating beaver-produced losses accrued to landowners. Building such schemes offer long-term realization of ecosystem services and damage mitigation. This would lead to increased societal well-being and increased conservation interest and efforts." (Thompson, S., Vehkaoja, M., Pellikka, J. and Nummi, P. (2021), Ecosystem services provided by beavers Castor spp.. Mam Rev, 51: 25-39. https://doi.org/10.1111/mam.12220)

When you take into account the estimated beaver range in Northern Hemisphere, beavers have the capacity to provide upwards of half a billion dollars of value in ecosystem services per year. And they work for free!  

Thinking in monetary terms should motivate policymakers, stakeholders, and the public to support beaver restoration efforts and healthy populations. Understanding the value of these services could help the public and policymakers understand the outsized benefits of these small, flat-tailed mammals.  

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