You are here:Home/Research/ Garden and Landscape Studies/ Scholarly Activities/ Designing Wildlife Habitats

Designing Wildlife Habitats

Dumbarton Oaks
May 14  –  15, 2010
Garden and Landscape Studies Symposium, John Beardsley and Alexander Felson, Symposiarchs

The vision of a garden shared peacefully by humans and animals is one of the most familiar landscape tropes—and one of the most elusive. Whether threatened by habitat destruction or climate change, displaced by urbanization or invasive species, poisoned by industrial toxins, or hunted to extinction, many wild animals have failed to thrive in the company of people. There is growing scientific consensus, most recently reported in an Elizabeth Kolbert essay in The New Yorker, that we are in the midst of the sixth great extinction in earth history—and the first caused by human activities. By some estimates, as many as half of earth's species will be gone by the end of this century.

What agency can landscape architects have in conserving or restoring wildlife diversity? The 2010 Dumbarton Oaks Garden and Landscape Studies symposium will gather designers, scientists, and historians to explore this question. Established conservation practices within ecology have begun to infiltrate landscape architecture, including reserve design for focal species and biodiversity; sizing and spacing of habitat patches, corridors, and edge conditions; and the analysis of food webs and predator-prey dynamics. Current initiatives in ecosystem services, restoration ecology, and designer-generated ecological experiments provide an enlarged role for landscape architects in the creation of productive habitats: design is increasingly instrumental to both the appearance and the ecological function of landscapes. While managing botanical diversity is a widely recognized part of the design professions, the protection, management, and restoration of wildlife habitat are less well studied and rarely integrated in a rigorous way into design. From niche habitats in urban parks to biosphere reserves, what role can design play in facilitating wildlife conservation at different scales? Given extinctions and habitat fragmentation, can designers become involved in reconfiguring wildlife communities in the same way they have reconfigured plant communities? What are the opportunities and dangers of designing ecosystems with incomplete species composition, including missing keystone species or disjointed food webs? Are species introductions an option? How should human inhabitance and use be managed? At one extreme, is it necessary for the survival of wildlife to exclude humans? At the other, many cities are now developing biodiversity plans: can urbanized areas be made more habitable for wildlife? How can designers address regional to global issues, including the impacts of invasive species and climate change on habitat quality and species distribution?

Organized by John Beardsley, director of Garden and Landscape Studies at Dumbarton Oaks, and Alexander Felson, a joint Yale University professor in the Schools of Forestry and of Architecture, the symposium will present the work of designers who work closely with or who are themselves scientists. These designers are establishing precedents that bring together science and design to guide wildlife conservation planning and design for the future. Environmental historians and scientists will frame these design initiatives, presenting a range of perspectives on zoological history, conservation biology and biodiversity science. The goal of the symposium will be to explore how designers, historians, and scientists might better collaborate to promote zoological biodiversity and how scientific ambitions might be expressed in culturally significant and historically informed design.


  • B. Deniz Çalış, Assistant Professor & Vice Chair, Department of Architecture, Bahçeşehir University, Istanbul, Turkey, The Wild and Wilderness in Ottoman Gardens and Landscape
  • Jane Carruthers, Professor, Department of History, University of South Africa, Designing a Wilderness for Wildlife: The Case of Pilanesberg, South Africa
  • Alexander Felson, Faculty, School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and School of Architecture, Yale University, Designer ecosystems and the aesthetic potential of research-based design: Future prospects
  • Joshua Ginsberg, Senior Vice President, Global Conservation Program, Wildlife Conservation Society, New York, From Elephants to Mice: the Impact of Ecology and Spatial Scale on the Design of Conservation Strategies
  • Stuart Green, Principal, Green & Dale Associates, Melbourne, Australia, Biodiversity of Wildlife Habitats as an Educational Resource: Two case studies, Alice Springs Desert Park and Cambodia Wildlife Sanctuary
  • Steven Handel, Professor of Ecology, Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Natural Resources, Rutgers University, Restoring Habitats to Degraded Urban Areas: Dreams and Nightmares
  • Kristina Hill, Associate Profesor and Chair, Dept. of Landscape Architecture, University of Virginia, Climate Change and Biodiversity in Urban Regions
  • Shepard Krech Ⅲ, Professor of Anthropology, Brown University, That's real meat: Birds, Native People, and Conservation
  • Nina-Marie Lister, Associate Professor, School of Urban and Regional Planning, Ryerson University, Toronto, Adaptive Infrastructure: Network Strategies for Urban Ecology
  • Jianguo (Jack) Liu, Rachel Carson Chair in Sustainability & University Distinguished Professor, Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability, Michigan State University, A Coupled Human and Natural Systems Approach to Research and Design: The Case of Wolong Nature Reserve for Giant Pandas
  • Shahid Naeem, Professor of Ecology and Chair, Department of Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology, Columbia University, Biodiversity, Ecosystem Functioning, and Ecosystem Services: A Useful or Useless Construct for Wildlife Habitats?
  • Harriet Ritvo, Arthur J. Conner Professor of History, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Edging into the Wild
  • Kari Stiles, Associate, Jones and Jones Architects, Landscape Architects, Planners, Seattle, WA, Conserving for the Future: Design Without Borders
  • Thomas Woltz, Partner, Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects, Charlottesville, VA, Biodiversity and Farming: Defining a role for contemporary landscape architecture that encourages plant and wildlife biodiversity within the context of productive agricultural land
  • Kongjian Yu, Professor of urban and regional planning, and founder and dean of the Graduate School of Landscape Architecture, Peking University, Beijing, China, Integration across Scales: Landscape as Infrastructure for the Protection of Biodiversity


Abstracts and Biographies

Yellowstone National Park. Courtesy of the National Park Service.