Conservation Science

As an SCBI program, we strive to understand and sustain Virginia’s rich biodiversity and lead with science to empower action.

By conducting conservation research throughout our region, we can begin to understand how land management decisions – by private citizens, organizations, or policymakers – impact our wildlife, water and landscapes.

Since 2010, SCBI scientists have teamed up with universities, partnering organizations, landowners and citizen scientists to conduct biodiversity surveys on more than 150 public and private properties across a 16-county region. Through the development of consistent survey protocols and rigorous volunteer training, the data has started yielding insightful results that can be applied to local land management.

For example, we now know that native warm-season grass meadows, such as those established through regional quail programs, support significantly higher densities of declining shrubland birds. We have also identified, for the first time, the importance of these same meadows for overwintering birds. In some fields, we observed over 100-fold increases in winter bird abundance after being converted to warm-season grasses.

Similarly, we are working with citizen scientists to look at how our activities influence movement patterns of our region’s carnivores, explore how urban development impacts bumblebee populations, and identify relationships between native plants, land management and wildlife. These studies can help delineate areas of conservation priority while engaging landowners and educating them regarding best practices for biodiversity.

Ecosystems are complex and the nature of VWL being a public-private partnership can sometimes make the research challenging. However, this program provides an important window into our local ecology and is a great way to engage, educate and inspire our community. We are excited about the future and look forward to broadening our impact.

To learn more about our conservation science work, you can explore the current projects below.

Virginia Working Landscapes (VWL) began in 2010 as a way to leverage partnerships and the expertise of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) to help local landowners understand their properties - using science to conduct surveys of indicator species (bird, plant and pollinator) and collect data that over time could elucidate the impact of different land management practices on biodiversity. Grasslands were selected as the initial focus because they were the least well-known among the working landscape types (e.g. forests, wetlands, streams and riparian zones) and had a known suite of declining species in need of further research.

Photo by Rachel Meulman

Today’s actions can have a significant impact on the future. Land use decisions influence the availability of life-sustaining and life-improving natural resources, ranging from clean water and productive soils to open spaces and cultural heritage sites. The Changing Landscapes Initiative (CLI) takes a landscape-level approach to explore how we can manage working landscapes for the greatest benefit to future generations of people and wildlife.

eMammal is a project where citizen scientists work in collaboration with researchers at the Smithsonian Institution and North Carolina State University to document mammals throughout the mid-Atlantic region, and soon, the entire country. Citizen volunteers place “camera traps”, infrared activated cameras, across the landscape in parks and other natural areas to collect photos of mammals. These photos help researchers answer questions about mammal distribution and abundance and use this information for conservation.

Often referred to as the “butcher bird,” the Loggerhead Shrike (Lanius ludovicianus) is most known for impaling prey on thorns, branches, or barbed wire. However, this Virginia-native songbird is in decline. Potential reasons for their decline include excessive pesticide use, collisions with vehicles, adverse weather conditions, disease, and habitat loss. In collaboration with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, West Virginia Department of Natural Resources, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI), and Wildlife Preservation Canada (WPC), VWL conducts research to better understand the causes of decline, and develop strategies to mitigate them.

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Virginia Working Landscapes
Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute
1500 Remount Road
Front Royal, Virginia 22630
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