Land Management at SCBI

Situated on over 3,200 acres of forest, grassland, and stream habitat in Front Royal, VA, the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) is in unique position to facilitate large-scale experimental research on land management practices.

By partnering with SCBI, Virginia Working Landscapes is enabled to field-test land management and monitoring techniques and conduct active research into grassland biodiversity and sustainable land uses. Furthermore, VWL shares with the public any insights gained through this work, in order to help citizens implement effective land conservation efforts in their local community.

With a fondness for birds and a keen interest in behavioral ecology, Smithsonian Scientist Eugene Morton set up the first string of nest boxes at SCBI back in the late 1970’s. He was initially drawn to study the mating behavior of Eastern bluebirds (Sialia sialis), but later became enamored with another cavity nester, the purple martin (Progne subis), and added gourd-style housing for them in the mid 1980’s. After Dr. Morton discontinued his research at SCBI, however, maintenance and monitoring of the bluebird trail and the purple martin colony fell somewhat to the wayside. Nevertheless, SCBI maintained its commitment to safeguarding the bluebird trail and martin colony to this day. In recent years, they are maintained by variety of volunteers supervised by the animal care team.

Today, it is more important than ever to study the Eastern bluebird and purple martin, and to monitor their populations through time.

Native grasses and wildflowers have persisted in Virginia for generations. Over the course of geologic time, these plants have evolved in response to the unique pressures exerted by the climate, soils, and community of species characteristic of the areas where they occur. As a result, they are typically more robust to local environmental conditions, and will outperform non-native species in resistance to drought, insects, and disease. However, some non-native grassland species (e.g., autumn olive Eleagnus undifolia, wavyleaf basketgrass Oplismenus hirtellus, and tree-of-heaven Ailanthus altissima) can outcompete natives. These species become invasive when they proliferate widely (sometimes even forming large monocultures), and displace native species. The invasion of non-native species reduces local biodiversity and ultimately the resiliency of the entire meadow ecosystem.

As steward of over 3200 acres of grasslands, forests, and streams, the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) is responsible for ensuring the health of a lot of land. Native plants underpin local ecological communities by supporting populations of native insects and herbivores, as well as the broader food-web network. So, SCBI actively manages several, otherwise-idle sites in order to make them into havens for native species.

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