About VWL

Through education and community engagement we bring conservation science to action.

SCBI and VWL prioritize education and training at all levels; we share scientific research that informs conservation practices on local and global scales. In collaboration with the Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation (SMSC), we regularly host a variety of expert-led workshops and training courses that are open to the public at our Front Royal campus.

VWL is also a program that thrives as a collaborative network that extends across an enthusiastic community of citizen scientist volunteers, landowners, partnering NGOs, agencies, and natural resource professionals. We engage this network in our scientific research by working with citizen scientists and landowners to collect data on biodiversity, and together, we advance and promote conservation practices across our region.

If you are interested in participating in our biodiversity surveys as either a landowner or citizen scientist, you will find more information in the following links:

Join Our Landowner Network

Become a Citizen Scientist

 

If you are interested in staying informed about upcoming events and VWL research, join our mailing list at the link below:

Join Our Mailing List

 

VWL botanist leading an instructional plant identification walk for citizen scientists.

Every year, we welcome landowners to join our network and grant us access to new sites for biodiversity surveys. These surveys, conducted by VWL staff and a team of SCBI scientists, graduate students, interns, and citizen scientists, help us better understand the factors that affect our region’s biodiversity and also to develop best land management practices for people and wildlife. At the end of each season we provide landowners with a summary of species observed on their property. Taken together, data from each of these properties will be analyzed as part of a larger study on the relationship between land-management and native species biodiversity. In the long-term, such studies aim to predict the future of our region’s landscapes.

Summary reports are provided to every private landowner, manager, and citizen scientist involved in biodiversity surveys. They document the goals and findings of the surveys performed and also endeavor to provide relevant context and helpful resources about native species. Click the link below to view a sample report. 

2018 Summary Report example: This is the 2018 Biodiversity Survey Report for The Clifton Institute (www.cliftoninstitute.org), where we performed breeding bird, grassland plant, bumblebee pollinator, and soil surveys.

If you are interested in finding out if your property is suitable for biodiversity surveys, sign up online. Alternatively, if you have specific questions, feel free to reach out to our Outreach Coordinator, Charlotte Lorick, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or (540) 635-0038. 

 


Bumble Bee Surveys

For bumble bee surveys, the survey goal is to determine species occurrence and diversity. Bumble bees are vital pollinators and their diversity is a good indicator of a healthy mix of field and forest and grassland plant species richness. In this survey, field team members place one blue vane trap filled with propylene glycol (a non-toxic preservative) at each survey site, located at least 100 meters from a forest edge. Team members collect the specimens from the traps four times during the survey period. After collection, bees are washed, dried, sorted and sent to UVA’s Blandy Experimental Farm to be identified.

Grassland Bird Surveys

The breeding bird survey was designed to investigate the relationship between grassland birds and both plant diversity and structure during the nesting season. For this survey, field team members sample breeding birds using a point count method for 10 minute intervals and identify each bird seen or heard within 100 meters of each survey pole. One survey site is defined by three poles (labeled A, B, and C) which are placed at least 100 meters from the forest edge and approximately 200 meters from each other. Each survey site is visited three times, with three point counts conducted during each visit (totaling nine point counts for each site).

Grassland Plant Surveys

The goal of the grassland plant survey is to determine the plant species composition of each site to provide insight on native species richness. In this survey, field team members identify plant species along a transect at each site defined by three poles (labeled A, B, and C) to determine plant species occurrence and diversity. Each transect consists of seven 1 m2 plots totaling 21 plots per transect. Sites are visited twice, once in the spring (June) and once in the summer (August).

Mammal Surveys

eMammal is a wildlife image program run by the Smithsonian Institution designed to study the effects of human activity on mammal distributions. Since 2014, the eMammal team has surveyed large and small forests along an urbanization gradient (wild, exurban, suburban and urban) in Virginia. Virginia’s forest fragments are mostly privately owned, so the eMammal team has partnered with VWL to detect mammals on select VWL network properties. For this survey, Reconyx hyperfire cameras are deployed at each survey location for three weeks between May and November. Cameras are spaced a minimum of 200 meters apart and are placed both within forest fragments and in old fields. After three weeks, the cameras are retrieved, wildlife photos are identified, and the images and metadata are uploaded into a Smithsonian digital repository. The data from this effort will support research working to understand how wildlife are impacted by land use.

Invasive Plant Surveys
We have completed the data collection for these surveys.

The invasive plant survey was developed to help document the spread of exotic species across the landscape. At each site, VWL staff will record the presence of a select list of invasive plant species along a 100 meter transect surveyed in 10 meter segments. All transects are at least 60 m from the forest edge. Additional forest composition data are collected that account for differences in forest type and age.


 

 

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VWL's Conservation Science Newsletter provides a platform for us to share and promote some of the latest advances in conservation science from around the world. It also provides a valuable opportunity for our interns to develop their skills in science communication. Newsletters are distributed the 2nd Monday of every month.


SIGN UP HERE!

 

Every spring, Virginia Working Landscapes recruits citizen scientists to assist with plant, bird, mammal, and pollinator surveys across the Piedmont of northern Virginia.  These surveys are part of an ongoing study of working grasslands that examines species diversity under various management regimes and at different stages of warm season grass establishment.  Training and surveys are supported by the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, VA.

There is no need to be an expert naturalist to participate in the surveys (although both the plant and bird surveys demand a working knowledge of local flora and birds), all that is required is an interest in learning and sufficient time to dedicate to the project.  Each survey will have a mandatory introductory meeting that will cover important information such as survey protocols, identification skills and site assignments.

Additionally, as of 2018, all VWL volunteers will be required to register as a volunteer with Friends of the National Zoo.  FONZ manages one of the largest single-unit volunteer forces in the Smithsonian Institution, which supports nearly every function of daily life at the Zoo and beyond.  FONZ requires participants to be be a minimum of 18 years old, submit a Registration Application on the FONZ website, and (when selected) pass a Smithsonian background check. 

If you are interested in volunteering as a citizen scientist for VWL surveys, please sign up below! You'll be added to our applicant email list and someone from our team will contact you before the field season to discuss next steps and provide more information. For more information, contact: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. 

 


 

Pollinator Surveys

Training includes information on pollinator life history, survey collection protocols in the field, identification of the most common bees and butterflies and specimen preparation for taxonomic identification. Citizen scientists are expected to process and store specimens properly, fill in survey sheets and deliver or coordinate delivery of samples to the pollinator survey coordinator. The final identification of specimens will be completed by para-taxonomists.

  • Surveys are performed in late May-June and August.
  • Each survey takes about 4 hours per site over two consecutive days (2 hrs each day) plus the additional time it takes to sort and identify the bees.
  • Survey dates can be at the volunteers’ convenience within the specified sampling periods (Spring = June, Summer = August).
  • Must be able to commit a minimum of 30 to 40 hrs (plus travel to our survey sites).
  • Survey training, supplies and equipment provided.
 

Bird Surveys

Introductory training includes a brief overview of project goals, survey protocols, data collection and site assignments. A practice survey session for new volunteers is then held one month later and focuses on point count techniques. Knowledge of local bird species is essential.

  • Survey season begins May 15th and runs until June 30th.
  • Point counts are carried out within 3 hours of sunrise and take approximately 45-60 minutes per site (three 10-minute counts).
  • Time commitment is a minimum of 6 survey sessions plus training (estimated 15 hrs not including travel).
  • You will need personal binoculars and a field guide, all other survey supplies provided.
 

Plant Surveys

Training includes protocols, identification skills, and specimen preparation. There is no need to be an expert in Virginia’s native flora, but we do ask that you have familiarity with Virginia flora, and the ability to key out unknown specimens with a dichotomous key and our reference collection. It is possible to pair with a more experienced person.

  • Surveys are performed in June and again from the last week of July through August.
  • Each site takes approximately 6-8 hours to survey.
  • Must be able to commit at least 5 days (an estimated 30-40 hrs plus travel), but the scheduling of the survey days is relatively flexible.
  • Supplies and equipment provided.
 

Mammal Surveys

This survey uses camera-traps and our custom eMammal software to determine the occurrence of a wide range of mammals. Volunteers will use a GPS device to navigate to predetermined locations and setup cameras. Cameras will be left to survey for 3 weeks at a time without scent or food lure. Every 3 weeks they will retrieve the camera, replace memory card and batteries, and place camera in new location (estimated 1 hour per camera). Volunteers will then upload photographs and metadata using eMammal software (approximately 1 hour per survey period), where it will be reviewed by project staff.

  • Surveys are performed May through November.
  • Each site takes approximately 2 hours per survey period.
  • Participants will need a personal GPS device, all other survey supplies provided.
 

 

WHAT YOU WILL GAIN FROM VOLUNTEERING YOUR TIME:

  • 1An opportunity to apply your naturalist skills to ground breaking scientific research.
  • 2Training and knowledge of identification of key elements in Virginia grassland communities.
  • 3Training in survey and preparation protocols for specific guilds (birds, plants, pollinators).
  • 4Opportunities to network and communicate with others of similar interests.
  • 5Admission to VWL workshops.

 

WHAT WE WILL NEED FROM YOU:

  • 1Fill out the form (click here) to join our volunteer applicant email list.
  • 2Participation in introductory training sessions and sampling days.
  • 3Agreement to join the FONZ network, and undergo fingerprinting and background check.
  • 4Completion of assigned field surveys within the allotted time period.
  • 5Prompt replies to emails concerning logistics and data management.

 

 

Through education and community engagement we bring conservation science to action.

SCBI and VWL prioritize education and training at all levels; we share scientific research that informs conservation practices on local and global scales. In collaboration with the Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation (SMSC), we regularly host a variety of expert-led workshops and training courses that are open to the public at our Front Royal campus.

VWL is also a program that thrives as a collaborative network that extends across an enthusiastic community of citizen scientist volunteers, landowners, partnering NGOs, agencies, and natural resource professionals. We engage this network in our scientific research by working with citizen scientists and landowners to collect data on biodiversity, and together, we advance and promote conservation practices across our region.


 

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Virginia Working Landscapes
Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute
1500 Remount Road
Front Royal, Virginia 22630
 
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
540.635.0038