About Field Sites
Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) is a terrestrial field site located on the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Front Royal, Virginia. The 12 km2 (2966 acre) NEON field site is located within and hosted by the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, a research and education institution run by the Smithsonian Institution. The site is dominated by mature and secondary hardwood forest. This site is located within NEON's Mid-Atlantic Domain (D02), a densely populated region bounded by the Atlantic Ocean on the east and stretching down the Eastern Seaboard from southern New Jersey to northern Georgia. The Mid-Atlantic Domain includes two other terrestrial sites and two aquatic sites. SCBI is colocated with the POSE aquatic site.  
The climate here is temperate and humid, with annual mean temperatures of 11.6°C (53°F). The coldest month of the year is January with an average temperature of -1.6°C (29.12°F), while July is the warmest month with an average temperature of 23.8°C (74.84°F). On average, this location gets a total of 1125 mm (44 in.) of precipitation annually. September the wettest month with an average monthly precipitation of 160 mm (6.3 in.) and December is the driest with only 50.8 mm (2 in.) of precipitation.  
SCBI is located on the Catoctin Formation. The parent materials at the site are residuum, colluvium and local alluvium derived from Cambrian age crystalline rocks, including meta-basalt, greenstone, and gabbro. 
The main soil series found at SCBI include Myersville, Hawksbill, Lew, Montalto, Catoctin, and Thurmont soils. From soils sampled at the SCBI site, the most abundant soil series was found to be Myersville soil on residual ridgetops and side slopes. The second most abundant soil series was found to be Lew soil on colluvial side slopes. 
SCBI is located within the Potomac-Shenandoah watershed. Major tributaries of this watershed include the Potomac River, South Fork Shenandoah, and North Fork Shenandoah tributaries. The Potomac-Shenandoah watershed drains into the Chesapeake Bay. 
The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute is primarily dominated by deciduous hardwood forests. These consist of both mature (>100 years) forest and young (<40 years) secondary forest. The mature forests are primarily oak (Quercus spp.), hickory (Carya spp.), ash (Fraxinus spp.), and tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) while the young forests consist primarily of white ash (Fraxinus americana), black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia), and dogwood (Cornus spp.). 
Fauna native to the mid-Atlantic region that encompasses SCBI include white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), coyote (Canis latrans), red fox (Vulpes vulpes), raccoon (Procyon lotor), and black bear (Ursus americanus). 
Past Land Management and Use
The land and facilities that now make up the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute have a fascinating history that goes back more than a century. In 1911, the U.S. government purchased 42 farms in the Front Royal, Virginia area. The resulting tract of land was 4200 acres of mostly farmland and pasture. A remount station was established on this land to breed and train horses and mules for the U.S. Army. With the onset of World War II, the center was converted into a K-9 training facility and housed 600 Italian and German prisoners of war. After the war ended, the center was acquired by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and used as a Beef Cattle Research Station in partnership with Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. During this time, the U.S. State Department used some of the center’s facilities to establish an Emergency Relocation site and communications base in case of national emergencies. By 1973, both the USDA research station and the site’s State Department facilities had shut down. The Smithsonian officially acquired the site in 1975 and converted it into a Smithsonian National Zoo captive breeding center. The site was named the Conservation and Research Center and, since its establishment, has expanded its mission to include a large variety of conservation activities and research. The center was renamed the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and, today, continues its important work safeguarding endangered species and natural places throughout the world. 
Current Land Management and Use
The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) is a research and educational institution associated with the Smithsonian Institution’s National Zoo. The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, previously called the Conservation and Research Center, has been based in Front Royal, Virginia since 1974. The facility is involved in a variety of conservation projects both locally and abroad. Among other missions, SCBI is working to safeguard endangered species through captive breeding programs, research to support understanding of ecosystem functions and changes, and training for current and future conservation professionals. The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute currently hosts NEON’s Domain 02 base of operations, with Domain 02’s labs and offices located on-site at the Front Royal facility.  
NEON Site Establishment
Plot establishment for NEON’s SCBI site was completed in November 2015. The site’s Initial Operations Capability/Capacity Review (IOCR), or when operations were officially approved to start, was November 2014 for terrestrial sampling. The site’s IOCR for tower operations was July 2016.
 Terrestrial Observation System (TOS) Site Characterization Report: Domain 02. (NEON Doc. #: NEON.DOC.003886)
 Sattler, A. (2016) NEON Site-Level Plot Summary Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI). Retrieved from https://data.neonscience.org/documents/10179/2361410/SCBI_Soil_SiteSumm….
 Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation. (n.d.). Virginia’s Major Watersheds. Retrieved from https://www.dcr.virginia.gov/soil-and-water/wsheds.
 Nelms, D. L., & Moberg, R. M. (2010). Preliminary Assessment of the Hydrogeology and Groundwater Availability in the Metamorphic and Siliciclastic Fractured-Rock Aquifer Systems of Warren County, Virginia. Retrieved from https://pubs.usgs.gov/sir/2010/5190/pdf/sir2010-5190.pdf.
 National Park Service. (n.d.) Animals. Retrieved from https://www.nps.gov/shen/learn/nature/animals.htm
 Smithsonian’s National Zoo. (2016, July 29). History of the SCBI Complex. Retrieved from https://nationalzoo.si.edu/conservation/history-scbi-complex.
 Smithsonian’s National Zoo. (2016, July 22). About SCBI. Retrieved from https://nationalzoo.si.edu/conservation/about-scbi.
 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 52 m (171 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, a Double Fence Intercomparison Reference (DFIR) near 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
Site Access Allowed
Site Access Details
Significant portions of the site are off-limits or have restricted access due to captive animal activities. Annual hunting activities may render this area completely inaccessible for short periods of time (1 or 2 days) over the course of the season. Most research activities require approval from a land-use committee; and stays longer than a month may require the researcher to apply for contractor credentials and submit to a background check.
NEON Field Operations Office
Domain 02 Support Facility
NEON Field Operations Address
1500 Remount Road
MRC 5560, Bldg 90
Front Royal, VA 22630
NEON Field Operations Phone
Mean Annual Temperature
Mean Annual Precipitation
Dominant Wind Direction
Mean Canopy Height
Dominant NLCD Classes
Deciduous Forest, Evergreen Forest, Pasture/Hay
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
Catoctin Formation - Metabasalt
USGS Lithologic Constituents
Grayish-green to dark-yellowish-green, fine-grained, schistose chlorite- and actinolite-bearing metabasalt, commonly associated with epidosite segregations.
USGS Geology Age
Proterozoic Z to Cambrian
Megapit Soil Family
Loamy, skeletal, mixed, active, mesic. Ultic Hapludalfs.
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