A little over a year ago, Tom Jung, a wildlife biologist with the Yukon Department of Environment, noticed something odd. He was flying in a helicopter over the Beaufort Coastal Plain, an expanse of windswept tundra between the Brooks Range and the Arctic Ocean, with a group of colleagues surveying gyrfalcons and peregrine falcons.
“I had to do a double take,” says Jung. “Sometimes in a wildlife survey, if you don’t see much for a while, you might get a bit googly-eyed.” But it was a beaver dam, on the Babbage River, right where it wasn’t supposed to be.
Beavers are fairly common in the boreal forests of North America and Canada. But because they rely on wood for food and shelter, treeless tundra habitat isn’t somewhere you’d expect to run across one. Jung had never seen one in the area before, nor had any of the other scientists he was with. When he returned from the trip, he learned that local Inuvialuit hunters had spotted dams and lodges on other rivers nearby in 2008 and 2009. Together, these sightings make up the first-ever record of beavers in the region, as Jung described in a recently published note in the journal Canadian Field-Naturalist.
So why are beavers moving into tundra real estate? Shrubification. As climate change warms the tundra, more and more woody plant…