Beaver-driven dynamics of a peatland ecotone: Identification of landscape features with Lidar and geomorphon analysis

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Virginia Tech

Beaver are renowned for their role as ecosystem engineers. Their ponds and vegetation consumption can greatly alter local hydrology and ratios of meadow to woodland. Beavers also actively buffer their environments against drought and wildfire susceptibility, and influence important climate parameters like carbon retention and methanogenesis (Rozhkova-Timina et al. 2018). This investigation focuses on beaver impacts on the boreal peatland ecotones enmeshing Cranberry Glades Botanical Area (~300 ha, ~1000 masl), a National Natural Landmark in mountainous West Virginia. Beaver activity has been suggested (Stine et al. 2011) to have an important role in the formation and maintenance of peatland conditions at Cranberry Glades. Using Lidar, geomorphon analysis, and aerial imagery, we were able to identify and reconstruct shifting hydrological patterns associated with beaver dams and ponds. The three-year interval worked well, allowing time for widespread changes in beaver infrastructure while conserving utility of reference imagery. Future work will include analysis of the most recent beaver activity, refinement of classification workflows, generation of more accurate physical models using drone-acquired Lidar and better ground filtering, and more complete incorporation of historical imagery.