The Ecology and Management of Wood in World Rivers

Hydrologic and Geomorphic Effects of Beaver Dams and Their Influence on Fishes

Michael M. Pollock, Morgan Heim, and Danielle Werner


Abstract.—Beaver dams alter the hydrology and geomorphology of stream systems and affect habitat for fishes. Beaver dams measurably affect the rates of groundwater recharge and stream discharge, retain enough sediment to cause measurable changes in valley floor morphology, and generally enhance stream habitat quality for many fishes. Historically, beaver dams were numerous in small streams throughout most of the Northern Hemisphere. The cumulative loss of millions of beaver dams has dramatically affected the hydrology and sediment dynamics of stream systems. Assessing the cumulative hydrologic and geomorphic effects of depleting these millions of wood structures from small and medium-sized streams is urgently needed. This is particularly important in semiarid climates, where the widespread removal of beaver dams may have exacerbated effects of other land use changes, such as livestock grazing, to accelerate incision and the subsequent lowering of groundwater levels and drying of streams.