In This Corner… Beaver vs. Nutria

Ok, so they aren’t plants. But they are invasive.

Update, Oct. 2015: Check out the bottom of the post for an opportunity to win things and contribute to the science of science blogging!

Nutria (Myocastor coypus), a semi aquatic mammal from South America, is now heavily invasive in southeastern North America, and has been widely introduced to Europe, Asia, and Africa. Nutria were introduced primarily for their fur, and are tasty critters as well, but their remarkably destructive feeding habits have earned them well deserved infamy among local biologists. They look like big swimming rats with scary teeth, basically.

North American beaver (Castor canadensis), a semi aquatic mammal from North America, is now heavily invasive in the Tierra del Fuego region of South America. Beavers were introduced primarily for their fur, and are tasty critters as well, but their remarkably destructive dam building habits have earned them well deserved infamy among local biologists. They look like big swimming rats with scary teeth, basically.

Nutria are spreading into Canada. And the national animal of Canada is returning the favor, and spreading into Argentina. THIS BLOWS MY MIND. Invasive species are great to study because you can take advantage of just this sort of ‘natural’ experiment (ok, not really natural). This is already set up as what evolutionary biologists call a reciprocal transplant experiment. Both these critters do well on their home turf, but perhaps they do even better away? In the southeastern US, nutria appear to be pushing beavers out of their old territories. How will the interaction play out in the home of nutria? This situation would be great for addressing questions about the ecology and evolution of invasive species, the interchangeability of species that do the same sorts of things (Neutral Theory), and local adaptation. Does that ring your scientific bell? Because it sure does mine.Update, Oct. 2015: Help us do science! I’ve teamed up with researcher Paige Brown Jarreau to create a survey of AlienPlantation readers. By participating, you’ll be helping me improve AlienPlantation and contributing to SCIENCE on blog readership. You will also get FREE science art from Paige’s Photography for participating, as well as a chance to win a t-shirt and a $50.00 Amazon.com gift card! It should only take 10-15 minutes to complete. You can find the survey here: http://bit.ly/mysciblogreaders

2 thoughts on “In This Corner… Beaver vs. Nutria

  1. Hello,
    I was puzzled by your language about beaver–“their remarkably destructive dam building habits”–because beaver create wetlands, slowing down the run-off of water and allowing it to be absorbed by the earth like a sponge, then held and slowly released either underground, or to plants and surface water. Many stream restorationists rely on beaver activity to restore healthy hydrological systems. I can’t speak to beaver in Argentina, but beaver are not just incredible assets to many N. American water systems, but their creators and sustainers. This is an important perspective for people to know about. — Thanks.

    • Hi, thanks for your comment. My point is that ecological context is KEY. In North America, beaver do all the important things that you describe, providing a service that many other species rely on for survival. These species are coevolved with the beaver. In North America, beaver are great for restoration.

      In South America, when invasive beaver build dams and create wetlands, they damage the ecosystem. The species in the ecosystems that beaver have invaded are not adapted to the wetlands that beaver create. They can’t survive under those conditions, and the changes that the beaver make to the water systems there may cause some native species to go locally extinct.

      There is nothing inherently good or bad about the beaver, but whether or not it restores ecosystems or damages them depends on the context.

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