Priority Areas

As an SCBI program, we strive to understand Virginia’s rich biodiversity by conducting conservation research throughout our region and empower action by leading with science.

Our efforts reveal how land management decisions – by private citizens, organizations, or policymakers – impact our wildlife, water, and landscapes.

To do so, VWL teams up with citizen scientists, SCBI researchers, universities, partnering organizations, and landowners to conduct research on private and public lands. Current projects include looking at how our activities influence movement patterns of our region’s carnivores, exploring how urban development impacts bumblebee populations, and identifying 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. Through the development of consistent survey protocols and rigorous volunteer training, we have found that these data yield insightful results that can be applied to local land management. 

Our research focuses on three major themes: Biodiversity, Ecosystem Services, and Threatened Species.

Biodiversity refers to the variety of living organisms, from the level of single genes, to species, to entire ecosystems. Humans benefit from biodiversity via the provision of ecosystem services as well as cultural or social values. This concept cuts across many topics in ecology and conservation, and therefore many of VWL’s projects fit well under this umbrella.

Highlighted Projects: Grasslands, eMammal


Ecosystem Services are the products and processes that nature provides to us for free – such as clean air and water, pollination, fertile soils, flood control – and which we often take for granted. They are essential for environmental and human health, and effectively donate billions of dollars’ worth of goods and services.

Highlighted Projects: CLI, Arthropods


Threatened Speciesin Virginia are declining for a number of interrelated (and sometimes poorly-understood) reasons, ranging from habitat loss and fragmentation, to competition with invasive species, to the over-application of pesticides/herbicides, and more. Of particular concern are the rare/declining species that were once common and widespread, such as the Rusty-patched bumblebee and Loggerhead shrike. Understanding the causes of decline in these species is important to the restoration of imperiled populations and the prevention of further species losses.

Highlighted Projects: LOSH, Orchids


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


Even though they're the most abundant and diverse group of animals on the planet, there's still a whole lot we don't know about arthropods. Previous research has shown that arthropods are critical to the stability of terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems because they 1) pollinate almost two-thirds of all flowering plants, 2) decompose leaf litter and wood debris to form humus by, and 3) underpin complex food webs in almost every region they inhabit, linking plants with the larger consumers. Yet, we know little about how land management can influence these arthropod-mediated ecosystem services, especially in eastern grasslands.


Every year, VWL staff and teams of SCBI scientists, graduate students, interns, and citizen scientists conduct biodiversity surveys on more than 150 properties in our 16-county study region (see: Where We Work). These surveys help us better understand the factors that affect the region’s biodiversity and also to develop best land management practices for people and wildlife.

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