The effect of flow regulation on plant-herbivore ecology has received very little attention, despite the fact that flow regulation can alter both plant and animal abundance and environmental factors that mediate interactions between them. To determine how regulated flows have impacted beaver (Castor Canadensis) and sandbar willow (Salix exigua) ecology, we first quantified the abundance and mapped the spatial distribution of sandbar willow on alluvial sections of the flow-regulated Green River and free-flowing Yampa River in northwestern Colorado. We then established 16 and 15 plots (1 m x 2.7 m) in patches of willow on the Green and Yampa Rivers, respectively, to determine whether rates of beaver herbivory of willow differed between rivers (Green versus Yampa River), seasons (fall-winter versus spring-summer), and years (spring 1998-spring 1999 versus spring 1999-spring 2000). Areal extent of willow was similar on each river, but Green River willow patches were smaller and more numerous. Beavers cut more stems during fall and winter than spring and summer and cut over 6 times more stems (percentage basis) on the Green River than on the Yampa River. We attribute the between-river difference in herbivory to higher availability of willow, greater beaver density, and lower availability of young Fremont cottonwood (Populus deltoids subsp. wislizenii; an alternative food source) on the Green River. Flow regulation increased willow availability to beaver by promoting the formation of island patches that are continuously adjacent to water and feature a perimeter with a relatively high proportion of willow interfacing with water.
Breck, Stewart W.; Wilson, Kenneth R.; and Andersen, Douglas C.
"Beaver herbivory of willow under two flow regimes: a comparative study on the Green and Yampa rivers,"
Western North American Naturalist: Vol. 63
, Article 6.
Available at: http://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/wnan/vol63/iss4/6