The latest culprit in Arctic warming — beavers

Humans may not be the only culprits in climate change. The New York Times reports that as the arctic warms, beavers (Castor canadensis) are expanding their range north. The dams they build in the tundra are creating new water channels that can thaw the permafrost, they found, and the thawed landscape can lead to further thawing, releasing carbon dioxide and methane that can increase global warming and heat up the Arctic even further.

“Beavers are these agents of disturbance that come from outside of the ecosystem and impose their construction, their activities on this landscape,” said Ken Tape, assistant professor at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks, who presented his research at last week’s annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union. “Probably the best analog for beavers in the Arctic are mankind.”

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Header Image: As beavers expand northward, researchers believe, their dams may be speeding the melting of Arctic permafrost. ©Bill Damon