Beavers (Castoridae) are semiaquatic rodents that modify forest and aquatic habitats by exploiting trees as a source of food and building material. The capacity of beavers to transform habitats has attracted interest from a variety of researchers, including ecologists, geomorphologists and evolutionary biologists. This study uses morphological and behavioral evidence from the fossil record to investigate the evolutionary history of tree-exploitation and swimming in beavers. The findings suggest that both behaviors appeared within a single castorid lineage by the beginning of the Miocene, roughly 24 million years ago. Biogeographic results support the hypothesis that tree-exploitation evolved at high latitudes, possibly influenced by the development of hard winters.

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Journal of Mammalian Evolution
Department of Biology

Rybczynski, N. (2007). Castorid phylogenetics: Implications for the evolution of swimming and tree-exploitation in beavers. Journal of Mammalian Evolution, 14(1), 1–35. doi:10.1007/s10914-006-9017-3