Alf Museum on Facebook Alf Museum on Twitter Alf Museum on Instagram

News

The Alf Museum Joins the Museums for All Initiative

Natural history museums are places for everyone to discover more about this amazing world we all share, but cost of admission can be a barrier for many in our community. That’s why the Alf Museum is proud to announce our participation in the Museums for All initiative!

The Museums for All initiative is available to all receiving SNAP EBT benefits. Simply present your SNAP EBT at the museum to receive free admission for up to four family members per card. Museums for All admission is available during all normal museum hours.

Museums for All helps expand access to museums and also raise public awareness about how museums in the U.S. are reaching their entire communities. More than 850 institutions participate in the initiative, including art museums, children’s museums, science centers, botanical gardens, zoos, history museums, and more. Participating museums are located nationwide, representing all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. Virgin Islands. It was created by

“A key part of our mission at the Alf Museum is to bring the wonders of paleontology – which is really the story of life on Earth – to as many members of our community as possible,” said Dr. Andy Farke, director of the Alf Museum. “Museums for All is the perfect companion program to our school and community science outreach programs.”

With the Museums for All initiative, we want to welcome everyone to enjoy a trip through time and share in discovering the amazing story of life on Earth.

For more information, please visit museums4all.org.

 

Museums for All logo. An infinity symbol made of different colored circles. Text below reads: Proud participating museum

Cougars hunting introduced donkeys rewires ancient food in Death Valley

A new study from the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology and collaborator institutions shows that cougars in the deserts of southern California and Arizona are hunting feral donkeys, filling a niche once held by dire wolves and sabertoothed cats.

The paper – “A novel trophic cascade between cougars and feral donkeys shapes desert wetlands” – was published July 24 by the Journal of Animal Ecology and featured in the blog Animal Ecology in Focus.

Dr. Mairin Balisi, an expert in mammalian carnivores who joined the Alf Museum as the Augustyn Family Curator on July 1, is among an international team of 11 authors on the study, which is led by Dr. Erick Lundgren, a postdoctoral researcher at Aarhus University in Denmark.

The paper tracks a modern-day shift in predator-prey ecology that echoes relationships that existed during the late Pleistocene, or the last ice age, which ended about 12,000 years ago. In the Pleistocene, saber-toothed cats and dire wolves hunted horse species that then inhabited North and South America, including California. Cougars were present, but not thought to have hunted megafauna such as horses. Habitat disruptions – including human impacts – led to the extinction of both the prey and predators. The cougar, or mountain lion Puma concolor, is the only big cat still inhabiting California – famously represented by P-22, the mountain lion living in Griffith Park in Los Angeles – but it is dwarfed by the extinct big cats of the Pleistocene.

Today, introduced horses and donkeys once again roam the wilds – leading to concerns that without natural predators they would harm fragile desert ecosystems. Instead, the study showed that cougars are stepping into the role of the extinct predators and creating a new ecological balance.

The paper tracked areas in Death Valley National Park where feral donkeys are hunted by cougars and areas where they are free from predation. The study showed cougars not only limit donkey population growth, but also impact donkey populations indirectly. Donkeys hunted by cougars are not active at night and far less active during the day. As a result, donkeys regulated by cougar predation cause far fewer disruptions to ecosystems.

Sites without predation have numerous trails, very little vegetative cover and huge areas of trampled bare ground.

“However, if you go just a few kilometers away to wetlands where mountain lions are hunting donkeys, wetlands are lush with untouched vegetation, have only one or two donkey trails, and limited trampling,” Lundgren said. “The differences between wetlands with and without mountain lion predation are remarkable and are even visible from satellite imagery.”

“This collaboration between paleontologists and wildlife biologists enables us to take a deeper-time perspective than most ecological studies,” Balisi said. “Our study has documented what appears to be a novel phenomenon – mountain lions hunting feral donkeys – but the fossil record shows us that, while the characters are relatively new, the roles that they play are as old as time.

“Extinct ecosystems can provide context for modern day, in this case enhancing our understanding of predator-prey relationships. This study illustrates paleontology’s relevance to practical questions of broad stakeholder interest, like conservation and land management.”

Learn more the Dr. Erick Lundgren’s work online.

Alf Museum Paleontologist Named to National Geographic Fellowship

Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology Outreach Coordinator Gabriel-Philip Santos was named a 2021 Grosvenor Teacher Fellow by National Geographic and Lindblad Expeditions on Feb. 9 for his work as an informal science educator, including his creative use of cosplay and pop-up museums to engage diverse communities in science education.

Photo of Gabriel Santos (Filipino Male) posing next to a brick wall. The Alf Museum, based at The Webb Schools of California in Claremont, is the nation’s only accredited paleontology museum on a high school campus.

The prestigious fellowship is named for Gilbert M. Grosvenor, chairman emeritus of the National Geographic Society. Santos is one of 50 pre-K-12 educators from across the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico selected for the fellowship’s 14th cohort – an announcement delayed a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Grosvenor Teacher Fellowship selects exemplary educators to embark on a life-changing voyage to one of the many remote and extraordinary environments the Lindblad fleet explores around the world. Given the ongoing pandemic and travel restrictions, field-based experiences are currently on hold.

Once conditions allow, Santos and his peers will embark on a Lindblad Expeditions’ voyage to experience natural wonders alongside an expedition team that will include marine biologists, geologists, historians, scientists, undersea specialists and National Geographic photographers. They will return home to incorporate discoveries into re-imagined curriculum, as well as to serve as program ambassadors for two years.

“I’m just tremendously honored by this selection,” said Santos, who also serves as the Alf’s collections manager. “The Grosvenor Teacher Fellowship will allow me to grow as an educator and help me to expand my efforts to connect the sciences to people of all backgrounds and to show students that there’s a place for everyone in the sciences.”

In his six years with the Alf Museum, Santos has focused outreach efforts on expanding understanding of equity and access to the sciences, including the Alf’s Discovery Days program that invites guests to meet paleontologists at the museum.

Santos is a cofounder of Cosplay for Science, a group of scientists and educators that brings science to the community at such events as Los Angeles Comic Con, where he built a program inspired by the science of Star Wars. He creates pop-up museums at community events, recognizing that not everyone can travel to a museum.

“A lot of what I do is really based in storytelling,” said Santos, who holds a Master of Science in geology. “Storytelling is a powerful tool for education that allows us to go beyond conveying facts. With storytelling, we inspire people to use critical thinking to question the world around them. Science, politics, pop culture – it all connects.”

Santos’ passion for science education is evident in his drive to pursue outreach even after the pandemic closed the Alf Museum to visitors in March 2020. Since then, he has hosted more than 1,000 virtual school tours and launched a talk show entitled Fossil Friday Chats in collaboration with the Western Science Center.

The show – now celebrating more than 40 episodes – invites paleontologists from diverse backgrounds often underrepresented in scientific fields to share stories about themselves and their research.

In the National Geographic and Lindblad Expeditions announcement, Santos was singled out for receiving a grant from the COVID-19 Remote Learning Fund for Educators, which provides educations with funding for devising innovative instructional resources that assist other educations in teaching via remote and hybrid learning environments.

Alf Museum Director Dr. Don Lofgren said the grant and fellowship both recognize what museum operators have long known: Santos is a powerful educator who elevates those with whom he works.

“It all goes back to museum founder Ray Alf’s challenge for us to make the most of our moment in time,” Lofgren said. “Gabe Santos is using his moment to make a difference in so many lives, inspiring the next generation of scientists.”

National Geographic has not announced where the Grosvenor Teacher Fellows will travel as it awaits the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions.

“No matter where I get to go, I’m very excited,” Santos said.

New Director Appointed at Alf Museum, Current Director Transitions to Emeritus

Andrew Farke, Ph.D., has been appointed the next director of the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology, only the fourth individual to hold this position since the museum’s founding in the late 1930s. Farke is currently the Augustyn Family Curator and director of research and collections at the Alf Museum. Farke succeeds Don Lofgren, Ph.D., who leaves the position in July 2021 to become director emeritus.

Picture of Andy Farke and Don Lofgren
Dr. Andy Farke (left) and Dr. Don Lofgren

“Andy Farke is extremely intelligent and ambitious and brings a host of talents to the table. He has had a major positive impact on all operations and programs at the museum. He’s internationally known for his paleontological expertise and research. Andy will be a terrific director and take the museum to even greater success in educational and scientific endeavors,” Lofgren says.

Farke joined the Alf Museum in 2008. He completed his undergraduate work in geology at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology and his Ph.D. in anatomical sciences at Stony Brook University.

Farke is excited about the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

“A major priority is to continue our positive momentum with the museum collection and its care,” Farke says. “I’m excited by the budding partnerships developed by the outreach and collections staff, which really challenge past assumptions about what a museum is, what a museum should be, and who the “typical” museum visitor might be.”

Chair of the Board Larry Ashton looks forward to Farke in his new role, “Every new museum director brings their own list of ideas, goals and objectives. Andy has the right mix of these, and the staff to take the Alf Museum to the next level. We all look forward to his long tenure.

The Raymond Alf Museum of Paleontology, located on the campus of The Webb Schools in Claremont, California, is the only nationally accredited museum in the USA on a high school campus. The museum is a center for paleontological education and research by maintaining and continually expanding its outstanding collection of over 195,000 specimens. The fossil collections consist of vertebrate, invertebrate, plant, and track way specimens, as well as many other miscellaneous specimens. The museum’s fossil track way collection is widely recognized as one of the largest and most diverse in the nation. Also, the Alf Museum provides a unique research program for Webb students where they study fossils they find on collecting trips and publish the results of their research in collaboration with museum staff, a unique program for secondary school students only offered at Webb.

Asked about Farke’s appointment, Head of School Taylor Stockdale shared his excitement about what the future holds for Webb and the Alf Museum.

“Without a doubt, Andrew Farke is the educator and leader we need to carry the extraordinary legacy of the Alf Museum at The Webb Schools into the future,” Stockdale says.

For more information, see this article from The Webb Schools.