About the Station

What is MLBS?

Mountain Lake Biological Station is a full-service residential field station located on the remote, but easily accessible, mountaintop of Salt Pond Mountain (1,160m) in the southern Appalachians of southwest Virginia.  The station is surrounded by sharp ecological gradients and fine-scale changes in habitat - ideal conditions for the studies of ecology and evolution.  MLBS offers the full range of scientific, instructional, and communications support expected at a modern field station. Programs at MLBS range from a variety of summer field courses, to a long-standing National Science Foundation (NSF) funded Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program, to numerous faculty-driven research projects.  Biologists and students from around the world come to the station to explore the diverse flora and fauna of the Southern Appalachians. Typical users are in residence, often with their families, from a few weeks to up to three months at a time.  Station use and housing are supported year round.  Dining services are offered in the summer and by arrangement.  An average summer-season day at MLBS hosts a community of 45-100 people ranging from small children to undergraduates and graduate students to distinguished research faculty. All members of the community work, eat, and live together everyday, integrating research and mentorship in the truest sense of a Jeffersonian “academical village.”


Naming of the Mountain Lake Cottages

In the 1930s Ivey Lewis, Director of Mountain Lake Biological Station, set out to find admirable southern scientists to name the station cottages after. With a $1,800 budget, an assistant, Charles Young, and connections throughout the South, he took suggestions and compiled a list of scientists who contributed “various and noteworthy” additions to biology. He dedicated at least one cottage to each southern state, and sought to honor scientists that may never have had formal recognition.

Lewis and Young posted advertisements in newspapers throughout the South asking for the state’s great and early biologist, and received many letters from friends and colleagues of scientists. Although names have been added after the original list that Lewis and Young made, the majority of Mountain Lake cottages are named after these “pioneers in Southern biology.” More recent cabins take names after individuals that have lived at and contributed to Mountain Lake. 

Click here to learn about each cottage's namesake



MLBS was established in 1930 by the University of Virginia’s (UVA) Department of Biology as a summer facility for teaching and research. 

The prominence of MLBS as a national research station took hold in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s as population based field research was gaining momentum and MLBS became one of a few very active field stations in that area. Most research at MLBS continues to involve field-oriented studies at the population level, with strengths in the evolution, ecological genetics, population and community ecology, behavioral physiology, and conservation of organisms in natural habitats.  The Station continues to grow in diversity and demographics and serves a broad range of scientists and students drawn from a national and international pool. Training operations, too, have diversified beyond the University to include a nationally renowned REU program program that has had continuous support for more than 20 years, producing excellent young scientists, some of whom have returned to MLBS as teachers. Demand for spring and fall services has increased, driving MLBS to expand its mission from a primarily summer operation to one offering access, scientific support, group-use facilities, housing, and other resources 12 months a year.

MLBS Directors:

Bruce Reynolds, 1930-32, 1947-56
Ivey Lewis, 1933-46
Horton Hobbs, 1957-60
Jim Riopel, 1961-63, 1965-79 odd years, 1980, 1982
J. James Murray Jr., 1964-78 even years, 1981, 1983, 1988-90
Jerry O. Wolff, 1984-1985
Blaine J. Cole, 1986-1987
Henry M. Wilbur, 1991-2006
Edmund Brodie III, 2007-pres.


The Site

Immersion in protected natural areas is a key appeal of MLBS for both research and training. The station sits on a remote wooded ridge at an elevation of 1,160m precisely on the divide between the Atlantic and Mississippi drainage basins in the Appalachian Mountains of southwestern Virginia.  The station consists of a forested reserve of 259ha on which UVA holds a renewable 50-year lease.  Adjoining the station is the Jefferson National Forest, where over 40,470ha of woodland are available for study. Of this, 4,250ha adjacent to MLBS are designated as NFS Wilderness.  The private Wilderness Conservancy at Mountain Lake owns another 1,012ha bordering MLBS, and welcomes our use for teaching and research.  Mountain Lake itself, which is in walking distance from the station, is the only natural lake in the unglaciated Appalachians and is of great biological and geological interest. The variety of rich and diverse habitats near MLBS have provided excellent opportunities for studies in terrestrial and aquatic field biology.  Mixed deciduous forests, mountain streams, successional meadows, a large natural lake, ponds, rocky ridges, sphagnum bogs, stands of red spruce, Canadian hemlock, white pine, and both disturbed and virgin habitats are all within walking distance of the station.  Because the station is located on the eastern continental divide and is surrounded by strong elevational and environmental gradients, it is uniquely situated to provide abundant opportunities for observational and experimental studies on scales relevant to the ecology and evolution of many plant and animal populations.



The Physical Plant

The physical facility at MLBS includes approximately 50,000sf divided among 31 buildings. Most of these structures date from the early 1930s, forming much of the charm of the station. In 2000, MLBS was included in the Greater Newport Historic District.  All buildings at the station greater than 50 years old (includes all but two residential buildings) are listed as “historic” in Virginia State and Federal Historic Registers.  Although significant improvements to the facility are ongoing, UVA is committed to protecting the integrity of its historically significant structures and therefore vets all planned actions through UVA Architects before proceeding. In the past 15 years, UVA has contributed over $2,000,000 to the renovation and new construction of MLBS facilities and equipment, including matching funds for over $500,000 of NSF facilities support in 1991 and 1999 combined.  In addition to building upgrades and renovation, supported projects in the past 15 years include a new water treatment and distribution system, construction of a winterized laboratory building, a new dormitory, lead and asbestos abatement throughout the station, and installation of station-wide computer network with high-speed internet service.

MLBS includes two large laboratory buildings. Lewis Laboratory houses three teaching classrooms, a large auditorium (occupancy 150; networked multimedia projection system), a library (online catalog, networked workstations and printers), station offices, a stockroom, a station museum, and herbarium collections. Seven laboratories are available for resident research groups. Common facilities include an electrophoresis and general wet chemistry laboratory, and a DNA extraction facility (and see Scientific Facilities below).  The Aquatics Laboratory, completed in 1995 with NSF support, houses an environment-controlled and fully networked computer lab, microscope and state-of-the-art image analysis facilities, two environmental rooms for animal husbandry, extended range growth chambers, a fully equipped woodworking shop, and a large (28 X 80ft) multipurpose room that accommodates a wide variety of experiments and indoor research needs.  Both laboratories are served by an Ethernet and wireless LAN.

Housing units (described below) include 22 cabins and dorms, and 1 winterized dorm with a common-use kitchen.  The Jefferson Dining Hall has a large commercial kitchen and can accommodate all station residents (100 max) at one sitting.  The semi-open post-and-beam Walton Pavilion was built in the early 1980’s as a recreational facility. The Pavilion is used for large discussion groups, visiting field trips, and Sunday night barbecues, as well as dances and other recreational functions.


Scientific Facilities

Scientific equipment and facilities housed in our lab buildings include sub-meter GPS, digital surveying, environmental data logging, high quality microscopes (including epiflorescence), digital imaging equipment, centrifuges, balances, incubators, ovens, autoclave, refrigerators, freezers, -80C freezer, laminar flow hood, controlled environment chambers, projection system, as well as a full array of basic field and lab supplies and equipment. The wet lab houses a fume hood, DI system to support biochemical and microbiology work, and electrophoresis set up. Several research exclosures and a small green house are maintained on site. A ¾ ton 4-WD pickup truck, 4-WD Suburban, and 12-passenger van are available for research and course use. MLBS solicits requests from users for additional common-use equipment.  Regular equipment upgrades and replacement are funded annually by UVA.

The Station maintains computer databases including a comprehensive local geographic information system (GIS), on-site automated weather station data, historical species lists, biological collection records (a new state of the art “digital herbarium” project is underway), a Station publication list dating back to the Station’s founding, and user and project activity records.  A real time on-line NOAA/NWS automated rain gage is on site.  NADP/NTN Monitoring Location VA13 – “Horton Station” is 4km from the station, and data are available online.  NCDC/NOAA data were collected at MLBS between 1971 and 1997 and are also available online. 



MLBS is a unit of the College of Arts and Sciences at University of Virginia. The campus office in Charlottesville, Virginia, is staffed by the Director, Associate Director, and Office Manager.  The Station itself is located in Giles County, Virginia, and is staffed full time by the Station Manager, who is responsible for day-to-day operations at the Station, and the Facilities Manager, who maintains the buildings and grounds.  During the summer the Director and Associate Director are in residence, and two summer staff assist the Manager.  

The Station supports a summer population of 60-100 students, researchers and their families. Visiting scientists 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.  Biologists interested in field studies are encouraged to consider Mountain Lake as a home for their research.  Some financial assistance is available to assist graduate students and faculty in starting research projects at the Station.

There are many opportunities for undergraduates to take courses and serve as field and laboratory assistants to graduate students and faculty conducting research at the Station.