According to researchers in Florence and Milan, the humble beaver is back in Italy after 500 years of absence due to overhunting and destruction of its habitat.
Recolonisation of the beaver started in Austria and is spreading into the northeastern Italian regions of Trentino-Alto Adige and Friuli Venezia Giulia. This is according to a study from Milan University and the Institute for Research on Terrestrial Ecosystems of the National Research Council (CNR) in Florence, published in Animal Conservation.
However, researchers say there are also new populations of the large, semi-aquatic rodent developing in regions further south following unauthorised reintroductions in central Italy.
“Large parts of Italy are suitable for the stabilisation of the beaver population, and while northern populations seem to be more isolated, in central Italy we have found a greater potential for expansion,” said lead researcher Mattia Falaschi of Milan University.
The presence of beavers can reduce hydraulic risk by mitigating the intensity of flood events. However, it can also cause damage to crops and infrastructure such as artificial canals, roads and bridges, leading to human-wildlife conflict.
This, says Falaschi, is a risk, especially in Trentino, Tuscany, Umbria and Le Marche.
Special monitoring will be required in these areas alongside preventive measures such as fencing and draining wetland areas where beaver colonies could threaten infrastructure.