Peter Busher

Professor Emeritus, Natural Sciences & Mathematics

Research Interests

Population biology, behavioral ecology, population dynamics of beavers

My research interests are in the general area of mammalian behavioral ecology. I have studied and continue to study the population dynamics and behavior of the North American beaver, Castor canadensis. I am particularly interested in better understanding how populations grow, develop, stabilize, and decline without human exploitation. Beavers represent a fascinating species to study in light of the current conservation biology movement. Beavers in most—if not all—North American locations are expanding in both numbers and range. This expansion comes after extirpation in many regions. Beavers are considered keystone species in their wetland habitats and their activities increase the amount of wetlands. Since wetlands are one of the most endangered—if not the most endangered—habitats in North America, beaver activities should be viewed as positive. However, the increasing number of beavers and their use and expansion of development of their preferred habitat also bring them into conflict for land use with humans. Thus, beavers present a thorny conservation biology problem. Most, if not all, North American populations are not endangered (in fact they are often considered a nuisance), yet they are helping to expand and structure critical, endangered habitat.

By studying natality, family structure, age-specific survivorship, and dispersal in unexploited populations, I hope to be able to predict how populations that are and may be exploited by humans will respond. Beavers are rapidly becoming a political species since their activities can and do affect human land use. For example, in Massachusetts the beaver population is rapidly expanding and beaver-human conflicts over land use result. Beaver control is both a city/town issue and a state issue. While my research is not directly related to developing beaver policy, my knowledge of beaver population biology does draw me into the debate. I was nominated (unsuccessfully) to serve on the Fisheries and Wildlife Board in Massachusetts. This board, which is appointed by the governor, sets and implements wildlife policy in the state. Thus, while my research is oriented around fundamental questions in population biology, I am also involved in broader issues of wildlife policy development.

In Europe and Asia beaver conservation is also becoming a major issue. Beavers (the Eurasian species, Castor fiber) have been rapidly introduced in many western European countries and landowners and scientists are learning how to live with the expanding population. I have helped organize and conduct international meetings since 1990 that have brought together scientists to discuss the issues involved with beaver introductions. I recently (2018) chaired the scientific committee for a meeting in Denmark, will be a keynote speaker and chair a workshop on beavers and humans in Lithuania (2019) and be on the scientific committee of a meeting in Romania (2021). I continue to collaborate with European colleagues on a range of research research projects.

Selected Publications

Family Castoridae (Beavers). Pp. 150-168 in: Wilson D.E., Lacher, T.E., Jr. & Mittermeier, R.A. eds. (2016) Handbook of Mammals of the World, Vol. 6 Lagomorphs and Rodents I. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (This chapter includes species accounts of the two extant beaver species).

Social organization and monogamy in the beaver, in Rodent Societies: An Ecological and Evolutionary Perspective, 2007, (J. O. Woolf and P. W. Sherman eds), Ch. 24, pp.280-290, University of Chicago Press.

Beaver Protection, Management, and Utilization in Europe and North America, 1999, (P.E. Busher and R.M. Dzieciolowski, eds.), 182 pp., Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers, New York, NY.

Selected Undergraduate Research Projects

  • Jonathan Donald: black Bear hunting behavior and beavers
  • Emily Sollars: beaver autumn activity and food caching
  • Caitlin Jacobs: beaver genetics as a way to understand family structure
  • Jamie Gould: female aggression and monogamous mating in beavers
  • Brianna Connor: sap flow in trees and beaver foraging behavior
  • John Axiotakis: beaver dams and ponds and sediment composition
  • Alex Strelko: Canada Goose distribution and habitat preference
  • Dominic Kemmett: snake abundance and beaver habitat


  • Boston University’s Metcalf Award For Excellence in Teaching (2009)
  • Peyton Richter Award for interdisciplinary teaching (1996)