Notes from the Wildlife Rescue Center: An Ecosystem Engineer

Submitted by Pam Budke Bolton

The Wildlife Rescue Center sits on 15 acres of property neighboring Castlewood State Park. Observing wildlife in our wildlife animal hospital and around our two-acre pond on the property is a favorite activity of the children who attend our summer camp and education programs at the Center. The half-mile nature trail around the pond is a perfect location to learn about Missouri’s wetlands, prairies and native wildlife. Families of wood ducks, geese, mallards and green herons frequent the water as well as an occasional blue heron. However, the family of beavers who live on the pond and work diligently to secure their dam is our visitors’ favorite attraction on the Center’s property.

Beavers are the largest rodent in North America. An adult can weigh as much as 35-40 pounds. While beavers are considered to be pests to some, they play a crucial role in biodiversity. Beaver ponds facilitate diverse populations of amphibians, reptiles, fish, plants, birds and mammals. Abundant species of plants and wildlife, many of them threatened or endangered, rely upon beaver ponds–ponds on a much larger scale than the one on our property.

Beavers are a keystone species in North America. A keystone species is a species that exerts great influence on an ecosystem. For hundreds of years beaver dams have helped form fertile basins in wooded regions of North America.

Wetlands are one of the most endangered habitats of North America. Beavers create flowages, or special wetlands through their dam building activities. Beavers act as wetland engineers as they construct, increase or maintain existing aquatic habitat. Beavers are particularly important to water fowl and song birds in the western states where riparian and wetland habitats comprise less than 2% of the landscape yet supply habitat for more than 80% of wildlife species.

Centuries ago beavers were trapped and hunted for their fur. In the 19th century, they were brought to the brink of extinction. Today, the little “ecosystem engineers” are recognized and appreciated for the vital role they play in river restoration.

Visit our website today at www.mowildlife.org or call 636-394-1880 for more information.

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