“The stop motion video was about research I was doing on beavers and wildfires and can beaver complexes make it through wildfires—do they function as refuge or do they burn?” Dr. Emily Faixfax explained to me in December about the video she created in 2019.
The short clip shows a beaver building a dam on a river, transforming the surrounding area into a lush landscape. When a fire breaks out, the dammed space remains safe.
Fairfax is an ecohydrologist studying the intersection of the hydrologic water cycle
with plants and animals. Her focus, as you might have guessed from the video, is on beavers and how they function as ecosystem engineers, changing the way water moves through an area. In trying to explain this research, she regularly found herself “grasping at straws” to help people imagine beavers in action. So, she downloaded a stop motion video app, shared the results on Twitter, and she’s been flooded with questions about beavers ever since (“there is a lot of misinformation about beavers,” she added).
Fairfax said it’s been really cool to see her research resonate with so many people over the past few years, and she’s made professional connections that have helped inform her current work. She’s still studying beavers and wildfires, now seeing how their habitats fare in extreme wildfire events like the Dixie Fire
, which burned just shy of one million acres in California this past summer.
“When you talk about beavers for fire mitigation or fire prevention, it is worth knowing what the likelihood of success in a given landscape is,” Fairfax said. So far, she has yet to find a fire that destroyed beaver complexes.
Before we ended our conversation, I asked Fairfax what advice she had for other researchers looking to share wonky or complicated findings with a wide audience. Be creative, she suggested, and don’t worry if you can’t capture a career’s worth of work in one video or post, just get people interested in learning more.
And then, because I was incredibly curious—what “beaver misinformation” does she keep coming across?
And number two: that beavers are not native to most of the United States.
“Before the European fur trade, there were somewhere between 100 and 400 million beavers in North America,” Fairfax clarified. “That’s a beaver for, like, every kilometer of habitable streams. And they lived in mountains, coasts, highlands and lowlands, and in the desert.”
If this succeeded in getting you curious about beavers and wildfires, I recommend checking out these resources: