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Waterborne and the Case of The Determined Rodent

Posted by Jenn Collins on January 15, 2021


In the summer of 2018, we on the Waterborne’s field team found ourselves facing an unprecedented hurdle: someone had built a home, made of mud and sticks smack in the middle of our testing zone. Unbeknownst to us, one of our creek monitoring sites had gained a new resident in the form of one large (and very determined) beaver. Over the weeks we became well-acquainted with our furry friend’s work as he made a point of blocking off the stream just a little before our monitoring equipment, making it impossible for the intake lines to get enough water for proper sampling. The field team that first found the issue promptly documented and then broke apart the dam; a brief but intense labor given the size of the logs. Their efforts were in vain as the dam was back the following week.

As scientists we know that beavers build dams for shelter and to stop the sound of rushing water, which is apparently one of the biggest triggers urging them to build. But, after removing the same complex structure multiple times, it was hard for us not to take the whole dam thing personally. We did everything we could to discourage the behavior—breaking the dam upon every visit—but there it was, in its full mud and stick glory, with each subsequent visit. After some weeks of this back and forth, we finally conceded defeat and called in a trapper to contain the culprit.

In a matter of days the beaver had been successfully trapped. Our nemesis turned out to be an especially large male who we think was a bachelor building up his own bachelor pad. Fortunately he seemed to have worked alone as no other beavers were ever spotted at the site, and the rest of the summer’s sampling went by without other animal constructions. As time passed and the sting of being beaten by a rodent lessened, it became a humorous quip passed on to new team members when exchanging field work stories. A story that we thought was in our past…

That’s right, at the last off-season visit to the same site, a new beaver dam was found. If we’re lucky it’s a late summer phenomenon that will be long abandoned before sampling season next year. Or it could very well be the start of round two between the Waterborne sampling team and an overly determined animal. For our egos’ sake, let’s hope for the former!

While this has become a funny story among our field team, it also exemplifies the unpredictability of the challenges we face in the field. In this case, we could even see the effect of the beaver dam in our stream depth data. We have no shortage of stories! With each unique challenge our team adds to our collective scientific knowledge: capturing photos for records, assessing the impact on our study, and flexing our creative muscle to overcome the challenge at hand. And saving the best for when we need a good chuckle.