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Peccary Dinner Set for October 21, 2022

Our 30th Annual Peccary Society Dinner will convene on Friday, October 21 as part of Webb’s Centennial Celebration. Items on the program will include:
  • Announcement of the latest discoveries from the summer peccary trip to Wyoming – dinosaurs, turtles, birds, sharks and more!
  • Highlights of the latest research by Webb students, including the introduction of this year’s Rogers Peccary Scholars – a student research program that happens only at Webb
  • Introduction of our new Augustyn Family Curator of Paleontology, Dr. Mairin Balisi
  • Presentation of the Raymond M. Alf Excellence in Paleontological Research & Education Award
  • And more!
To sponsor or purchase a ticket for this event, please visit the registration page. If you have any questions, please contact Danielle Gordon, director of development, at (909) 482-5267 or dgordon@webb.org.

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.

Museum Staff Promoted to New Positions

The Alf Museum is excited to announce some big changes! Two members of our team, Gabriel Santos and Bailey Jorgensen, are stepping into new positions at the Alf.

Gabriel Santos is the museum’s new Director of Visitor Engagement and Education. Gabriel has been with the Alf Museum since 2015. He received his Bachelors in biological sciences at UC Irvine and then his Masters in geological sciences at California State University, Fullerton. Beginning in his position as collections manager and then outreach coordinator, he has played an important role in the development of the Alf Museum’s public programs and DEI initiatives, such as the Cosplay for Science Initiative and ACCESS Paleo SoCal internship program. In 2021, he was named a Grosvenor Teacher Fellow with Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic. As Director of Visitor Engagement and Education, Gabriel will continue to grow our public programs and develop the Alf Museum as an educational resource for our community.

Bailey Jorgensen, who has been with the Alf since 2017, is stepping into the role of Collections Manager. Beginning in her position as Collection and Outreach Assistant and then Senior Collections Assistant, she has been essential in the organization, care, and maintenance of the museum’s 190,000 fossil specimens and historical archive. Her work in specimen digitization and databasing has expanded the accessibility of the museum’s collection for students, researchers, and the public. Bailey received her Bachelor’s degree in archaeology at Montana State University and will be starting her Master’s program in maritime sciences at State University of New York. As our new Collections Manager, Bailey will work in collaboration with our curator and other collections staff to oversee care and use of the Alf Museum collection.

Both Gabriel and Bailey have been essential members of the Alf Museum team and we very excited to see them step into their new positions. Please join us in congratulating them both! We are so grateful to have them on team Alf!

 

 

Paleontologist, Dr. Mairin Balisi, Joins Alf Museum as New Curator

Filipina woman holding a Smilodon skull in an aisle of museum cabinets

Paleontologist Mairin Balisi, an expert in fossil mammal carnivorans – such as dogs and cats – has joined the Alf Museum as the new Augustyn Family Curator of Paleontology.

Balisi earned a Ph.D. in ecology and evolutionary biology at UCLA. She earned her Master of Science in ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Michigan. She attended UC Berkeley as an undergrad, earning a Bachelor of Arts in both integrative biology and comparative literature.

Most recently, she has worked as a National Science Foundation postdoctoral research fellow at the La Brea Tar Pits & Museum, and concurrently as a Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Fellow at UC Merced.

She specializes in small to mid-sized mammals from 40 million to 40,000 years ago – including some that remain part of our world today.

“I really view the present as an extension of the past and as an early sign of the future. What we see in the fossil record are the roots of the present,” Balisi said. “What I hope to bring to the Alf Museum is this perspective of continuity between the past, present and future.”

Balisi succeeds Dr. Andrew Farke in the role of Augustyn Curator, a post created by the Augustyn family in 2011. Farke, who focuses largely on dinosaur paleontology, became director of the Alf Museum in 2021, succeeding Dr. Don Lofgren. Like Balisi, Lofgren specialized in mammal paleontology.

“Dr. Balisi’s outreach and publication records are impressive, as is her deep connection with the Southern California paleontological community,” Farke said. “She has conducted fieldwork throughout the western United States and Mexico, in addition to her work at the Tar Pits. Furthermore, she has a significant track record of mentoring students – including high school students. She’s an extraordinary addition to our team at the Alf Museum.”

Balisi will join Farke and Webb students on her first Peccary Trip, a sojourn to Wyoming from July 23 to August 6 to explore a site rich in mammals and dinosaur fossils.

During the academic year, Balisi will also teach paleontology courses within The Webb Schools Science Department, assist with after-school museum volunteering and mentor students in advanced research courses. 

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