Priority Areas


Of the approximately 210 known orchids in North America, more than 60 percent are listed as threatened or endangered in all or part of their range. Many have disappeared from certain states. Although progress has been made in understanding basic orchid ecology and biology, conservation efforts are slow, which threatens native orchids’ long-term survival. Orchids are remarkably sensitive to environmental disturbances and, thus, their presence or absence may provide indicators as to the health of forest habitats. This is because orchids form complex symbiotic associations with mycorrhizae fungi at all life stages, and frequently have specialized habitat requirements and pollinator partnerships. Factors that influence any of these relationships could play a role in determining orchid population distributions. In order to enable the successful conservation of native orchids and/or to use orchid presence as an indicator of forest health, we must first determine the distribution of orchids (and their associated fungi and pollinators) as well as the interactions between orchids and the landscape.

In collaboration with the Changing Landscapes Initiative and Field Ecology Lab at SCBI, VWL is undertaking a project to determine the feasibility of a long-term orchid monitoring effort by citizen scientists, and to investigate orchid occupancy as a function of patch size and position along land use gradients. Broadly, VWL's role in this project is to engage with our network of  landowners to find properties for surveys, as well as to dedicate time and resources to developing survey methods, establishing survey plots, and training volunteers. Field work began summer 2018, with the establishment of 10 pilot study sites in three counties surrounding Front Royal, VA.

VWL's Role:

VWL provides a network of landowners who are interested in land use issues and land management best practices, who allow surveyors access to private property, opening up new areas for monitoring and research

Partners and Primary Investigators:

Amy Johnson - Virginia Working Landscapes
Iara Lacher - Changing Landscapes Initiative
Bill McShea - SCBI Field Ecology Lab

Project Timeline & Status:

Started Spring 2018


Related Resources:

North American Orchid Conservation Center webpage link


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