The American beaver, once prized for its pelt, is now frequently considered a nuisance for the extensive damage they can cause to crops, timber, and roadways. There is limited economic data on the damage caused by beavers, however, estimates for southern states reach millions of dollars.
Since beavers are a species of management concern across the U.S. and especially in the South, MSU researchers are investigating beaver ecology to help improve management practices of their populations for either their positive environmental effects as a keystone species or as agricultural and infrastructure pests.
Isidro Barela, a master's student in the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Aquaculture from Belen, New Mexico, is undertaking research to predict likely areas on the landscape where beaver may live. If land managers can identify where beavers may occur, they may be able to better manage damage that might arise from a nuisance situation.
"I am very interested in beavers as a species because of their capability to manipulate their environment on such a large scale and their impacts on riparian communities," Barela said. "I am also very interested in the geospatial field. This research allowed me to apply these two interests into a research project that may contribute to the overall body of scientific knowledge of beaver ecology as well as predictive modeling, which may improve management practices for the American beaver."
By also pursing the geospatial and remote sensing minor in the Department of Geosciences, Barela can combine wildlife and geospatial science to evaluate two very different approaches used to predict habitat suitability for the American beaver. One modeling technique is known as Maxent, a method that uses data about known beaver locations to predict habitat suitability. The other method, Expert Opinion Models, also predicts habitat suitability but uses environmental variables identified and ranked by beaver experts to make predictions.
The results from the research found that both modeling approaches performed well, but the Expert Opinion Models may have better performance at predicting greater areas of suitable habitat. Dr. Leslie Burger, assistant extension professor in the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Aquaculture and Barela's graduate co-advisor, said, "Isidro explored ways in which managers can use habitat models, satellite imagery, and professional opinions to predict where beavers might occur on the landscape."
When asked about his personal experience as a MSU Bulldog, Barela said, "What I enjoyed the most about my time at MSU is the graduate student community. While I've been here, I have made friends and met colleagues from all over the world. The diversity of graduate students at MSU made my experience here very enjoyable. This diversity allows individuals to learn from different experiences, cultures, and ways of thought that allow communities to grow culturally and professionally."
This research was funded by USDA APHIS Wildlife Services and the MSU Forest and Wildlife Research Center."