Index of Species Information

WILDLIFE SPECIES:  Castor canadensis


WILDLIFE SPECIES: Castor canadensis
AUTHORSHIP AND CITATION : Tesky, Julie L. 1993. Castor canadensis. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: [].
ABBREVIATION : CACA COMMON NAMES : American beaver Canadian beaver beaver flat-tail bank beaver castor castor cat TAXONOMY : The currently accepted scientific name for the American beaver is Castor canadensis Kuhl [6,10,19,22,33]. The subspecies differ in size, proportion, color, and skull characteristics [10,33]. The following subspecies have been mentioned in the literature [10,19,22,29,33]: C. canadensis subsp. baileyi Nelson C. canadensis subsp. belugae Taylor (Cook Inlet beaver) C. canadensis subsp. canadensis Kuhl (Canadian beaver) C. canadensis subsp. carolinensis Rhoads (Carolina beaver) C. canadensis subsp. frondator Mearns (Sonora beaver) C. canadensis subsp. leucodonta Gray (Pacific beaver) C. canadensis subsp. mexicanus Bailey (Rio Grande beaver) C. canadensis subsp. michiganensis Bailey (woods beaver) C. canadensis subsp. pacificus Rhoads (Washington beaver) C. canadensis subsp. phaeus Heller ( Admiralty beaver) C. canadensis subsp. repentinus Goldman C. canadensis subsp. taylori Davis C. canadensis subsp. texensis Bailey (Texas beaver) ORDER : Rodentia CLASS : Mammal FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS : No special status OTHER STATUS : NO-ENTRY


WILDLIFE SPECIES: Castor canadensis
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION : The American beaver is found throughout most of North America except in the Arctic tundra, peninsular Florida, and the Southwestern deserts [2,31,35]. The distribution of six subspecies is listed below [10,19]. The distribution of the other seven was not found in the literature. C. c. subsp. carolinensis - occurs in the southeastern part of the United States north to southern Virginia, northern Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and west to southeastern Iowa, eastern Missouri, eastern Arkansas and Louisiana [19]. C. c. subsp. taylori - occurs in northern Nevada in the streams and tributaries of the Snake River drainage [10]. C. c. subsp. baileyi - occurs in the Humboldt River drainage [10]. C. c. subsp. repentinus - occurs along the Colorado River [10]. C. c. subsp. texensis - occurs in eastern Texas [10]. C. c. subsp. leucodenta - occurs along the Coast Ranges from California to Alaska [10]. ECOSYSTEMS : FRES11 Spruce-fir FRES12 Longleaf-slash pine FRES13 Loblolly-shortleaf pine FRES14 Oak-pine FRES15 Oak-hickory FRES16 Oak-gum-cypress FRES17 Elm-ash-cottonwood FRES18 Maple-beech-birch FRES19 Aspen-birch FRES20 Douglas-fir FRES21 Ponderosa pine FRES22 Western white pine FRES23 Fir-spruce FRES25 Larch FRES28 Western hardwoods STATES :
BLM PHYSIOGRAPHIC REGIONS : 1 Northern Pacific Border 2 Cascade Mountains 3 Southern Pacific Border 4 Sierra Mountains 5 Columbia Plateau 6 Upper Basin and Range 7 Lower Basin and Range 8 Northern Rocky Mountains 9 Middle Rocky Mountains 10 Wyoming Basin 11 Southern Rocky Mountains 12 Colorado Plateau 13 Rocky Mountain Piedmont 14 Great Plains 15 Black Hills Uplift 16 Upper Missouri Basin and Broken Lands KUCHLER PLANT ASSOCIATIONS : K005 Mixed conifer forest K011 Western ponderosa forest K014 Grand fir - Douglas-fir forest K016 Eastern ponderosa forest K017 Black Hills pine forest K018 Pine - Douglas-fir forest K020 Spruce - fir - Douglas-fir forest K021 Southwestern spruce - fir forest K025 Alder - ash forest K029 California mixed evergreen forest K093 Great Lakes spruce - fir forest K094 Conifer bog K095 Great Lakes pine forest K096 Northeastern spruce - fir forest K098 Northern floodplain forest K099 Maple - basswood forest K100 Oak - hickory forest K101 Elm - ash forest K102 Beech - maple forest K103 Mixed mesophytic forest K106 Northern hardwoods K107 Northern hardwoods - fir forest K109 Transition between K104 and K106 K110 Northeastern oak - pine forest K111 Oak - hickory - pine forest K112 Southern mixed forest K113 Southern floodplain forest SAF COVER TYPES : 16 Aspen 18 Paper birch 19 Gray birch - red maple 20 White pine - northern red oak - red maple 22 White pine - hemlock 24 Hemlock - yellow birch 25 Sugar maple - beech - yellow birch 26 Sugar maple - basswood 27 Sugar maple 28 Black cherry - maple 30 Red spruce - yellow birch 31 Red spruce - sugar maple - beech 35 Paper birch - red spruce - balsam fir 39 Black ash - American elm - red maple 57 Yellow-poplar 58 Yellow-poplar - eastern hemlock 59 Yellow-poplar - white oak - northern red oak 60 Beech - sugar maple 61 River birch - sycamore 62 Silver maple - American elm 63 Cottonwood 88 Willow oak - water oak - diamondleaf oak 93 Sugarberry - American elm - green ash 95 Black willow 96 Overcup oak - water hickory 108 Red maple 202 White spruce - paper birch 203 Balsam poplar 210 Interior Douglas-fir 212 Western larch 213 Grand fir 217 Aspen 221 Red alder 222 Black cottonwood - willow 229 Pacific Douglas-fir 230 Douglas-fir - western hemlock 235 Cottonwood - willow 243 Sierra Nevada mixed conifer 244 Pacific ponderosa pine - Douglas-fir 245 Pacific ponderosa pine 251 White spruce - aspen 252 Paper birch 254 Black spruce - paper birch SRM (RANGELAND) COVER TYPES : NO ENTRY PLANT COMMUNITIES : American beavers commonly inhabit riparian areas of mixed coniferous-deciduous forests and deciduous forests containing abundant American beaver foods and lodge building material such as quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides), willows (Salix spp.), alders (Alnus spp.), red-osier dogwood (Cornus sericea), and cottonwoods (Populus spp.) [2,25].


WILDLIFE SPECIES: Castor canadensis
TIMING OF MAJOR LIFE HISTORY EVENTS : Breeding season - Breeding occurs between January and March [18,30,31,35]. American beavers are generally monogamous, although males will mate with other females [22,31]. Only the colony's dominant female breeds, producing one litter a year [30]. Gestation/litter - Gestation period lasts 4 months. Average litter size varies between 2.3 and 4.1 [27,30,31,35]. Kits are weaned at 2 to 3 months and can swim by 1 week of age [31,35]. Age at sexual maturity - American beavers become sexually mature between age 2 and 3 [18,36]. Colony/dispersal - The colony consists of three age classes of American beavers: the adults, the kits, and the yearlings born the previous spring (average 5.1 American beavers per colony) [18]. After young American beavers reach their second or third year, they are forced to leave the family group [18,22,35]. Dispersal may be delayed in areas with high American beaver densities. Subadults generally leave the natal colony in the late winter or early spring [30]. Subadult American beavers have been reported to migrate as far as 147 miles (236 km), although average migration distances range from 5 to 10 miles (8-16 km) [2]. Life span - Up to 11 years in the wild, 15 to 21 years in captivity [22,27]. The species is active throughout the year and is usually nocturnal. Adult American beavers are nonmigratory [2]. PREFERRED HABITAT : Suitable habitat for American beavers must contain all of the following: stable aquatic habitat providing adequate water; channel gradient of less than 15 percent; and quality food species present in sufficient quantity [2]. American beavers can usually control water depth and stability on small streams, ponds, and lakes. Large lakes or reservoirs (20 acres [8 ha] in surface area) with irregular shorelines provide optimum habitat for the species. Lakes and reservoirs that have extreme annual or seasonal fluctuations in the water level are generally unsuitable habitat for American beavers [2,28]. Intermittent streams or streams that have major fluctuations in discharge will have little year-round value as American beaver habitat [2]. Stream characteristics such as gradient, depth, and width are determining factors in habitat use by American beaver [2,11]. Steep topography prevents the establishment of a food transportation system [2]. Additionally, narrow valley bottoms cannot support the large amounts of vegetation needed by American beavers. Consequently American beaver populations in narrow valley bottoms are more cyclic than are populations in wider valley bottoms [24]. Valleys less than 150 feet (46 m) wide are occupied less frequently [2,24]. One study found that 68 percent of the American beaver colonies recorded in Colorado were in valleys with a stream gradient of less than 6 percent. No American beaver colonies were recorded in streams with a gradient of 15 percent or more. Valleys that were only as wide as the stream channel were unsuitable American beaver habitat, while valleys wider than the stream channel were frequently occupied by American beavers [24]. Food availability is another factor determining suitable habitat for American beavers [11]. Marshes, ponds, and lakes are often occupied by American beavers when an adequate supply of food is available. American beavers generally forage no more than about 300 feet (90 m) from water; however, foraging distances of up to 656 feet (200 m) have been reported [2]. COVER REQUIREMENTS : The lodge is the major source of escape, resting, thermal, and reproductive cover for American beavers. Lodges may be surrounded by water or constructed against a bank. Water protects the lodge from predators and provides concealment for American beavers when traveling to and from food gathering areas and caches [2]. On lakes and ponds, lodges are frequently situated in areas that provide shelter from wind, waves, and ice [2]. Damming large streams with swift, turbulent waters creates calm pools for feeding and resting [11]. FOOD HABITS : American beavers are herbivores. During late spring and summer their diet consists mainly of fresh herbaceous matter [2,18]. American beavers appear to prefer herbaceous vegetation over woody vegetation during all seasons if it is available. Woody vegetation may be consumed during any season, although its highest utilization occurs from late fall through early spring when herbaceous vegetation is not available. The majority of the branches and stems of woody vegetation are cached for later use during the winter [2]. Winter is a critical period, especially for colonies on streams because they must subsist solely on their winter food caches. In contrast with stream American beavers, colonies on lakes are not solely dependent on their stores of woody vegetation; they can augment their winter diet of bark with aquatic plants [18]. Aquatic vegetation such as duck-potato (Sagittaria spp.), duckweed (Lemma spp.), pondweed (Potamogeton spp.), and water weed (Elodea spp.) are preferred foods when available [2]. The thick, fleshy rhizomes of water lilies (Nymphaea spp. and Nuphar spp.) may be used as a food source throughout the year. If present in sufficient amounts, water lily rhizomes may provide an adequate winter food source, resulting in little or no tree cutting or food caching of woody materials [2,18]. Other important winter foods of American beavers living on lakes include the rhizomes of sedges and the rootstocks of mat-forming shrubs [18]. Important woody foods of American beavers include quaking aspen, willow, cottonwood, alder, red maple (Acer rubrum), serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.), mountain maple (Acer glabrum), red-osier dogwood, and green ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica) [2,18,22]. Other woody species occasionally utilized for food include sugar maple (Acer saccharum), black ash (Fraxinus nigra), yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis), hazels (Corylus spp.), hemlocks (Tsuga spp.), and Oregon crab apple (Malus fusca) [18,21]. Aspen and willows are considered preferred American beaver foods; however, these are generally riparian tree species and may be more available for American beaver foraging but not necessarily preferred over all other deciduous tree species. American beavers have been reported to subsist in some areas by feeding on conifer trees; however, these trees are a poor quality source of food [2]. Woody stems cut by American beavers are usually less than 3 to 4 inches (7.6-10.1 cm) in d.b.h. One study reported that trees of all size classes were felled close to the water's edge, while only smaller diameter trees were felled farther from the shore. Trees and shrubs closest to the water's edge are generally utilized first [2]. PREDATORS : American beavers have few natural predators. However, in certain areas, American beavers may face predation pressure from wolves (Canis lupus), coyotes (Canis latrans), lynx (Lynx canadensis), fishers (Martes pennanti), wolverines (Gulo gulo), and occasionally bears (Ursus spp.). Alligators, minks (Mustela vison), otters (Lutra canadensis), hawks, and owls periodically prey on kits [19,22,27]. Humans kill American beavers for their fur [18,22]. MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS : American beavers will live in close proximity to humans if all habitat requirements are met [27]. However, railways, roads, and land clearing adjacent to waterways may affect American beaver habitat suitability. Transplants of American beaver may be successful on strip mined land or in new impoundments where water conditions are relatively stable. Highly acidic waters, which often occur in strip-mined areas, are acceptable for American beaver if suitable foods are present [2]. American beaver activity can have a significant influence on stream and riparian habitats [3,14,24,30]. American beavers are the only mammals in North America other than humans that can fell mature trees; therefore, their ability to decrease forest biomass is much greater than that of other herbivores [2]. Additionally, American beaver ponds conserve spring runoff, thus ensuring more constant stream flow, diminishing floods, conserving soil, and helping maintain the water table [12]. Through tree harvesting activity, American beavers can have an effect on natural succession. According to Barnes and Dibble [3] tree cutting by American beavers on the lower Chippewa River in west-central Wisconsin will alter the course of succession on the riverbottom site studied. American beavers were selective in their choice of woody plants, preferring ash (Fraxinus spp.) and hickory (Carya spp.) over all other woody plants. These authors predict a major reduction in density for future populations of ash, hickory, and hackberry (Celtis spp.) in areas of American beaver activity and an increase in the density of basswood (Tilia spp.) and elm (Ulmus spp.) [3]. American beaver activity can be beneficial to some wildlife species [13,30]. Waterfowl often benefit from the increased edge, diversity, and invertebrate communities created by American beaver activity [30]. Occupied American beaver-influenced sites produce more waterfowl because of improved water stability and increased brood-rearing cover; the production declines with American beaver abandonment. Great-blue herons (Ardea herodias), ospreys (Pandion halietus), bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), kingfishers (Ceryle alcyon), and many species of songbirds benefit from American beaver activity as well. Otters, raccoons (Procyon lotor), mink, and muskrat (Ondatra zibithica) thrive on the increased foraging areas produced by American beaver activity. Berry-producing shrubs and brush in areas cut over by American beavers attract white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) and black bear (Ursus americanus) [30]. American beaver activity can also improve fish habitat. Production of three trout species (Salomo spp. and Salvelines fontinalis) in a stream in the Sierra Nevada increased due to a higher standing crop of invertebrates in American beaver ponds [8]. Smallmouth bass (Micropterus dolomieuis) and northern pike (Esok lucius) also benefit from American beaver impoundments [30]. In some instances American beaver ponds have provided up to six times the total weight of salmonids per acre than that in adjacent stream habitat without American beaver ponds [24]. In areas of marginal trout habitat, however, American beaver activity can reduce trout production. American beaver-caused loss of streamside shade and diminished water velocity can result in lethal water temperatures [30]. The amount of influence that cattle have on riparian environment can be reduced by American beaver activity in many valley bottoms. If American beavers are thoroughly established in wide valley willow habitats prior to the introduction of cattle, the immediate effect of cattle on the stream is often minor [24]. American beaver activity can also have detrimental effects. American beaver-caused flooding often kills valuable lowland timber [30]. Human/American beaver conflicts occur when American beavers flood roadways and agricultural lands, and dam culverts and irrigation systems. The economic cost of nuisance American beaver activities often exceeds the value of their pelts and has been estimated at $75 to $100 million annually in the United States. Additionally, American beavers have potential to increase water-borne pathogens (including Giardia lamblia) downstream from their activity [30]. American beavers are harvested for their pelts. In most states with substantial American beaver populations, the species is now managed to provide a reliable annual harvest and a relatively stable population [12].


WILDLIFE SPECIES: Castor canadensis
DIRECT FIRE EFFECTS ON ANIMALS : Information on the direct fire effects on American beavers was not found in the literature; however, they can probably easily escape fire. Since lodges are typically built over water, they are probably at little risk of being destroyed by fire. HABITAT RELATED FIRE EFFECTS : Fire occurring in riparian areas often benefits American beaver populations [16]. American beavers are adapted to the early stages of forest succession. Quaking aspen, willows, alders, and red-osier dogwood, prime American beaver food trees, all sprout vigorously after fire. As succession progresses, these trees become too large for American beavers to use or are replaced by climax trees [34]. Recurring fires within parts of boreal forests have allowed aspen and willow to replace coniferous forests. This change favors American beaver populations, since both species are important food sources. Fire may also help create more open bodies of water [16]. FIRE USE : Fire can be used to maintain American beaver habitat in a subclimax state, thus ensuring adequate food supply for American beavers [16,26,34]. High American beaver populations in many areas are the direct result of the extensive clearcutting and forest fires which were characteristic of the northern forests until recent years [25,34].

References for species: Castor canadensis

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21. Meehan, William R. 1974. The forest ecosystem of southeast Alaska: 4. Wildlife habitats. Gen. Tech. Rep. PNW-16. Portland, OR: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Forest and Range Experiment Station. 32 p. [13479]
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24. Munther, Greg L. 1981. Beaver management in grazed riparian ecosystems. In: Peek, J. M.; Dalke, P. D., eds. Wildlife-livestock relationships symposium: Proceedings 10; [Date of conference unknown]; Coeur D`Alene, ID. Moscow, ID: University of Idaho, Forest, Wildlife and Range Experiment Station: 234-241. [20183]
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26. McCune, Bruce. 1982. Site, history and forest dynamics in the Bitterroot canyons, Montana. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin. 166 p. Thesis. [7232]
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28. Smith, Douglas W.; Peterson, Rolf O. 1991. Behavior of beaver in lakes with varying water levels in northern Minnesota. Environmental Management. 15(3): 395-401. [19298]
29. Stock, A. Dean. 1970. Notes on mammals of southwestern Utah. Journal of Mammalogy. 51(2): 429-433. [21186]
30. Van Deelen, Timothy R. 1991. Dispersal patterns of juvenile beavers in western Montana. Missoula, MT: University of Montana. 85 p. Thesis. [20560]
31. Van Gelden, Richard George. 1982. Mammals of the National Parks. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press. 310 p. [20893]
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