The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal (formerly the Conservation and Research Center) started primarily as a breeding center for endangered birds and mammals. Today, the black-footed ferret, Eld's deer, and several species of Pacific island birds are being bred to maintain genetic diversity and provide reserves for highly endangered species.
The current priority for SCBI's animal collection is veterinary and reproductive research. By living in controlled environments, the birds and mammals—most of them little-known and endangered—provide ideal subjects for intensive study and the rapid acquisition of urgently needed information. Findings from these studies provide critical information for the management of captive populations and valuable insights for the conservation and management of wild populations.
Not all the animals that reside at SCBI Front Royal are endangered. Some are "surrogate species," with behavioral and physiological characteristics similar to their endangered relatives in the wild. SCBI scientists study the captive proxies to design methodologies that can be used to solve complex problems affecting their wild counterparts.
For example, SCBI's intensive studies of the Siberian polecat paved the way for a more effective reintroduction of the black-footed ferret, the most endangered mammal in the United States, to its native western habitat. more
Similarly, SCBI is using surrogate bird species to help learn more about how to conserve many critically endangered Hawaiian birds.
With the facility in Front Royal as their operational hub, SCBI scientists study the ecology of native wildlife and habitats within the Appalachian ecosystem. Among their many projects, they have investigated the effects of timber removal on species that live in forest communities of Virginia, completed a mammal survey of the Allegheny Mountains in western Virginia, and conducted intensive research on the ecology and management of white-tailed deer populations. more
Much of SCBI's local research has been ongoing for decades. Because ecological processes are highly complex—indeed, life and the world are dynamic and ever-changing—it is only with long-term records that many trends can be deciphered.
SCBI's Kentucky warbler study is a good example. Scientists have been monitoring this small migratory bird for more than 20 years, investigating its breeding behavior and ecology in Virginia during summers and its wintering ecology in Central America. This study has been invaluable in interpreting a complex system through space and time, with countless benefits for many other migratory birds.