About Field Sites
Mountain Lake Biological Station (MLBS) is a terrestrial NEON field site located in a remote but accessible southern portion of the Appalachian Mountain Chain in southwestern Virginia, approximately 20 km (12 mi.) northwest of Blacksburg, VA. The Jefferson National Forest is contiguous to the station, with 42.5 km2 (10,500 acres) of woodland designated as National Forest Service Wilderness. The 2.3 km2 (570 acre) field site is comprised of three parcels of land, with the northern two segments owned by the U.S. Forest Service and the southern portion hosted by the University of Virginia. The station is situated on the elevated divide between the Atlantic and Mississippi drainage basins and is characterized by abrupt changes in environmental gradients and fine-scale variances in ecological niches. MLBS is part of NEON Domain 07 - Appalachians & Cumberland Plateau, which includes eastern Tennessee, most of Kentucky, southern Ohio, and parts of North Carolina, Georgia, Indiana, and Illinois. D07 includes four other NEON field sites, including two additional terrestrial sites and two aquatic sites. It is the only NEON D07 site located in Virginia, as the other four Domain 07 sites are found in Tennessee.  
The central Appalachians are characterized by a humid, continental climate with pronounced temperature variability. The summers are typically hot and humid, and the winters cold. Precipitation is steady year round, however, it is more abundant in the summer. The mean annual average temperature is 8.8°C (48°F) and the mean annual precipitation is around 1227 mm (48 in.). The area is also subject to periodic droughts and wet spells, which influence wildfire activity.  
The parent materials at the site are residuum, colluvium, and local alluvium derived from Lower Devonian and Silurian Formations, Undivided, which include the Millboro Shale (black fissile shale) and Needmore Formations and the Juniata, Reedsville, Trenton, and Eggleston Formations. 
The dominant soil sub group on this site is Fluvaquents formed in colluvium. These soils contain more than 35% rock fragments in each horizon and have an agrillic horizon with a clay content of 27-40%. The site includes other soil series including Sheloctoa, Lily, Bailegap, Jefferson, Berks, and Weikert. 
The Mountain Lake Biological Station is home to one of only two natural lakes occurring in Virginia. It represents the only natural lake in the unglaciated Appalachians and the highest-altitude U.S. lake east of westernmost Kansas and south of New England. The lake is within a first-order drainage system in an area that can generate perennial flows, occasionally with very high discharges caused by severe storms. The effects of historic land use practices and major storms have caused destabilization of this area’s watersheds and stream channels.  
The vegetation at MLBS is typical of Southern Appalachian forests and is a mosaic of deciduous species. Red maple (Acer rubrum) and white oak (Quercus alba) dominate the canopy. Witch-hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) and shadbush (Amelanchier laevisare) are common throughout the understory and pockets of eastern white pine (Pinus strobus) are found along the creeks. 
The protected area around and within the Mountain Lake Biological Station provides rich and diverse habitats for a range of species. Along with approximately 200 species of birds, the forested area is home to at least 55 species of mammals including the rarely seen water shrew and rock vole. Of the animal species found in the area, 27 are listed by the USFWS as threatened or endangered with 26 species of freshwater fishes and mussels listed as threatened, endangered, or sensitive. NEON collects data on five types of wildlife: small mammals, birds, ticks, mosquitoes, and ground beetles.  
Past Land Management and Use
The NEON Mountain Lake Biological Station site is composed of land within the Jefferson National Forest and the privately owned University of Virginia research station of the same name. The southwestern Virginia landscape was historically variant as a result of receding glaciers to the north, widespread Native American use of fire and crop cultivation, and large grazing animals such as bison. As a result of European settlement, much of the forest was logged in the late 18th century, and naturally occurring grazing animals were eradicated. Clear cutting of the forest was rampant and year-round, and as a result, the area became indiscriminately decimated. Today, only 1% of the forests are less than 10 years old and only 1% of the forests are over 150 years of age. The Jefferson National Forest was established in 1936, allowing the area some protections; the forest is presently managed for recreational hunting and timber harvest. The research station was established as a facility for teaching and research in 1930 by the University of Virginia. The prominence of the station grew in the late 1960s and 1970s as one of a few very active field stations in the area designated for population-based field research.  
Current Land Management and Use
The Mountain Lake Biological Station relocatable terrestrial NEON site is comprised of three parcels of land. The northern two parcels, owned by the U.S. Forest Service, are currently managed for white oak (Quercus alba) and recreational activities, while the southern portion is a unit of the College of Arts and Sciences at University of Virginia, which currently holds a 50-year renewable lease. The UVA station is a full-service research facility that hosts a variety of research and educational programs from a number of institutions on its campus of laboratories, classrooms, dorms, and husbandry areas. Visiting scientists and students conduct research in plant and animal population biology, behavioral ecology, life history evolution, community ecology, ecological genetics, biosystematics, epidemiology, conservation biology, and the physiology of behavior.  
NEON Site Establishment
The Mountain Lake Biological Station NEON site was established in 2017, with NEON TOS Plots purposefully allocated across the area following NEON standard criteria and avoiding existing research. The three separate sampling areas are discontinuous to avoid U.S. Wilderness Areas located near the tower site. TOS Distributed Plots were allocated at MLBS according to a spatially balanced and stratified-random design, utilizing existing stratification data from the 2011 National Land Cover Database for its consistent and comparable data availability across the United States. After intense scrutinization, NEON decided to absorb areas the National Land Cover Database classified as mixed forest into the area classified as deciduous forest, as there are not enough evergreen trees to warrant a mixed forest layer. TOS Tower Plots were allocated according to a spatially balanced design in and around the NEON tower airshed.
 Terrestrial Observation System (TOS) Site Characterization Report: Domain 07. NEON.DOC.003891vB.
 Mason, Jennifer. (2018). NEON Site-Level Plot Summary, Mountain Lake Biological Station (MLBS), August 2018. https://data.neonscience.org/documents/10179/2361410/MLBS_Soil_SiteSumm…
 Hydrogeologic controls on lake level: a case study at Mountain Lake, Virginia, USA
 PRISM Climate Group., Oregon State University, http://prism.oregonstate.edu, created 4 Feb 2004.
Remote sensing surveys of this field site collect lidar, spectrometer and high-resolution RGB camera data.
This site has a flux/meteorological tower that is 29 m (95 ft) tall with six measurement levels. The tower top extends above the vegetation canopy to allow sensors mounted at the top and along the tower to capture the full profile of atmospheric conditions from the top of the vegetation canopy to the ground. The tower collects physical and chemical properties of atmosphere-related processes, such as humidity, wind, and net ecosystem gas exchange. Precipitation data are collected by a tipping bucket at the top of the tower and a series of throughfalls located in the soil array.
Soil Sensor Measurements
This site has five soil plots placed in an array within the airshed of the flux tower. Photosynthetically Active Radiation (PAR) at soil surface, soil heat flux, solar radiation, and throughfall are measured at the soil surface in each soil plot. Soil moisture, soil temperature, and CO2 concentration are measured at multiple depths in each soil plot.
At terrestrial sites, field ecologists observe birds and plants, and sample ground beetles, mosquitoes, small mammals, soil microbes, and ticks. Lab analyses are carried out to provide further data on DNA sequences, pathogens, soils, sediments, and biogeochemistry. Learn more about terrestrial observations or explore this site's data products.
Field Site Data
George Washington and Jefferson National Forest
Site Access Allowed
Site Access Details
Researchers should coordinate directly with the US Forest Service for permitting and approval.
NEON Field Operations Office
NEON Field Operations Address
154 Fairbanks Road, Fairbanks Plaza
Oak Ridge, TN 37830
NEON Field Operations Phone
Mean Annual Temperature
Mean Annual Precipitation
Dominant Wind Direction
Mean Canopy Height
Dominant NLCD Classes
Average number of green days
Average first greenness increase date
Average peak green date
Average first greenness decrease date
Average minimum greenness date
Number of Tower Levels
USGS Geology Unit
USGS Geology Name
Lower Devonian and Silurian Formations Undivided
USGS Lithologic Constituents
Sandstone, shale, and limestone
USGS Geology Age
Silurian to Devonian
Megapit Soil Family
The dominant wind direction is west-northwest.
Other Domain D07 Field Sites
Other Field Sites in VA