Monday, November 26, 2007

Fighting an Invasion: Mocksville ecologist helps fight a scourge of beavers in Chile

It must have seemed like a good idea at the time: In 1946, hoping to start a fur trade, the Argentine government released 50 North American beavers in the sub-Antarctic islands on South America’s southern tip.

The fur trade flopped quickly. But 60 years later, the beaver has never had it better.

In the continent’s vast Patagonia region, shared by Argentina and Chile, some of the most pristine but defenseless forest in existence is being eaten alive by dam-building rodents.

The original 50 have multiplied to over 50,000 and crossed over to mainland Chile. As they gnaw their way north, leaving miles of dead forest in their wake, the worried Chilean government is grasping for solutions.

Enter the man from Mocksville.

Chris Anderson, 30, an ecologist, found his way to Chilean Patagonia through a series of happenstances he never would have anticipated. Eight years after first setting foot there, he has emerged as one of the country’s leading experts on the beaver.

There was never a better time to be one. The Chilean government has started to pay hunters

by the pelt to kill beaver. Officials have gone as far as to encourage restaurants to serve them on their menu and are considering widespread poisoning efforts.

Chile has been hunting and trapping the beaver since 2003, but changes now being made to their tactics are based in large part on Anderson’s research. Last year he published the first-ever study on the beaver’s effects on freshwater wildlife - demonstrating for the first time that beaver dams significantly reduce the diversity of aquatic life around them. He sits on national and regional invasive-species advisory boards in Chile and is a fellow at one Chilean research institute and a researcher at another.

Here is the full article.