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gunderson habitat ecoroof research

At a time in the world where man’s interaction with nature is seeking a sustainable path, research advances on the potential of habitat ecoroofs to reconcile urban habitat loss and partially restore biodiversity.  While facing environmental challenges such as climate change, loss of habitat, and loss of biodiversity, the recognized ecological benefits of ecoroofs continue to grow.  Ecoroofs offer numerous environmental benefits such as: retaining storm water, reducing building energy use, reducing the heat island effect, increasing roof longevity, linking existing habitats, facilitating wildlife movement and dispersal, and providing habitat. 



Designing ecoroofs with the intent of providing habitat is a relatively new field.  While design parameters include specific soil types, soil depths, native plant mixtures, drainage options, and habitat structures – the process to better understand the value of habitat created by ecoroofs moves forward in an unlikely location:  inner city industrial Portland, Oregon.


To better quantify and compare the habitat value of industrial ecoroofs designed for the provision of habitat with the habitat value of industrially located natural ground sites in the Pacific Northwest, the industrial riverfront company Gunderson, commissioned Dobro Design to complete a three-phase study spanning over ten years.  The original habitat ecoroofs on their Portland, Oregon production site were started as a response to industrial landscape protection regulation. They desired to know comparative values of habitat in regards to location in the landscape.



Previously, there was no study completed over a long period of time that attempted to quantitatively measure the habitat value of ecoroofs.  Prior studies ran in duration from a few weeks to a few months.  However, this ongoing study is intended to take a much broader view on the habitat of ecoroofs as the systems evolve, and strives to inform the development of habitat ecoroofs best practices (design parameters, establishment and maintenance guidelines), and the implementation of strategic planning of habitat ecoroofs as an urban ecological tool.


From studying the basic elements of habitat such as food, water, and shelter, habitat parameters were identified and used in a matrix appraisal system for evaluation of the habitat value of six study sites in Portland.  Results from Phase 2 build on those from Phase 1 – termed the ‘Gunderson Habitat Correlation’.  The study consistently finds ecoroofs designed for habitat can offer a greater value of habitat than comparable ground sites.  Currently in Phase 3, the ongoing findings center on the ecological evolution of the habitat ecoroofs as wildflower meadows and the relevant establishment and maintenance procedures required to avoid long term development issues.


With the fragmentation and loss of urban habitat leading to a loss of biodiversity, the potential for ecoroofs to reconcile urban habitat and partially restore biodiversity is of great importance.  The United States Environmental Protection Agency has concluded that habitat alteration and destruction are among the greatest risks to the ecological and human welfare in the 21st century.  Acting as green corridors, ecoroofs can link existing habitats, facilitate wildlife movement and dispersal, and provide habitat.  In simple terms, ecoroofs offer a unique potential to reverse decades of urban habitat degradation while exposing a wider audience to an oasis of natural beauty within urban industrial areas. 


Dobro Design is excited to continue building the regional knowledge needed to facilitate such ecological and resilient urban design.

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