Beaver recovery and adaptive management
Designation of protected areas is an essential tool in order to preserve ecosystems. However, particularly true for densely settled Western Europe, the maintenance of functioning ecosystems is getting more and more complex. Thus, the demand for adaptive concepts in European nature conservation schemes is constantly increasing. Although a considerable potential to support recent instruments of nature conservation, e.g. the FFH, is inherent in such conceptions, the principles of adaptive management is rarely applied to Western European nature conservation.
Our study is conducted in the Wurzacher Ried, an area consisting of about 20 km 2 of wetlands and bogs. Since representing one of the largest functioning high moors in Western Europe, the area is awarded with the European Diploma of Protected Areas by the European Council. However, a considerable amount of the bog was used by humans for approximately 200 years. Huge financial and working efforts during the last 20 years target on mitigation of the impact of former drainage and peat exploitation in order to restore moor habitat.
Based on re-introductions in Bavaria, the beaver (C. fiber) colonizes the Wurzacher Ried now for about 5 to 8 years. The return of the rodent considerably affects habitat conditions. In consequence, diverse vegetation management measures conducted in the frame of contractual conservation schemes becoming more and more obsolete. On the other hand, the rewetting effects coming along with the occurring beaver assumedly provide significant potentials for wetland restoration.
Conflict management currently is the main topic of conservationists concerning beaver occurrences in Germany. In contrast, our project targets on using the dynamic habitat modifying effects of the beaver as a catalyst for developing adaptive management schemes for wetland areas. However, comprehensive protected area management in cultural landscapes has to take into account ecological factors as well as the requirements of land users and the public. Therefore, our research design has a modular set up. In order to evaluate the potential role of the beaver in wetland restoration, we explore beaver impact on the ecology of the study area, e.g. water supply, habitat conditions and species composition. On the one hand, the information gained by the ecological research shall facilitate the conversion of the current management into adaptive schemes. On the other hand, the research results can be used as basis for environmental didactic concepts. The intersection of ecological research, management and aspects of environmental didactics finally results into the development of an integrated conservation strategy.