Conservation Paleoecology at the La Brea Tar Pits, Los Angeles CA - Institute for Field Research

Location: Los Angeles, California, United States

June 17, 2019 to July 12, 2019

Application Deadline: 
Friday, April 5, 2019

Deadline Type: 

Program Type

Field school

RPA certified



Institute for Field Research, Connecticut College, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, La Brea Tar Pits and Museum

Project Director:

Dr. Emily Lindsey

Project Description

The La Brea Tar Pits is one of the only fossil sites on earth that captures an entire ecosystem moving through time. With millions of datable fossils covering the last 50,000 years, and comprising everything from plants and insects to dire wolves and mammoths, this site offers an unparalleled opportunity to answer questions about long-term effects of climate change, human activities, and extinction on ecosystems. Students in this course will be trained in paleontological excavation, fossil preparation, and museum curation, and will learn how paleontological data are being used today to manage for future change.

Period(s) of Occupation: Pleistocene

Project size: 
1-24 participants

Minimum Length of Stay for Volunteers: Participants must stay for duration of the field school.

Minimum age: 

Experience required: 
No prior experience is required to participate in this field school.

Room and Board Arrangements

Students are responsible for their own accommodations. Students will also be responsible for providing their own food, including lunches. Students should plan to bring a bag lunch to the field site each day (refrigerator and microwave are available in the staff kitchen) or may purchase food at local restaurants, food trucks, or the weekly farmers’ market during their lunch hour.

A limited number of housing stipends will be available to help defray housing costs for non-local students.

Cost may vary depending on preferences of the participants.

Academic Credit

Name of institution offering credit: 
Connecticut College
Number of credits offered 8 Semester Credits


Contact Information
Institute for Field Research
2999 Overland Ave. Suite 103
Los Angeles
Recommended Bibliography: 

Akersten, W. A., Shaw, C. A., Jefferson, G. T., & Page, G. C. (1983). Rancho La Brea: status and future. Paleobiology9(3), 211-217.

Barnosky AD et al. (2017).  Merging Paleontology with Conservation Biology to Guide the Future of Terrestrial Ecosystems.  Science 355: eaah4787

Coltrain, J. B., Harris, J. M., Cerling, T. E., Ehleringer, J. R., Dearing, M. D., Ward, J., & Allen, J. (2004). Rancho La Brea stable isotope biogeochemistry and its implications for the palaeoecology of late Pleistocene, coastal southern California. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology205(3), 199-219.

Fox-Dobbs, K., Stidham, T. A., Bowen, G. J., Emslie, S. D., & Koch, P. L. (2006). Dietary controls on extinction versus survival among avian megafauna in the late Pleistocene. Geology34(8), 685-688.

Friscia, A. R., Van Valkenburgh, B., Spencer, L., & Harris, J. (2008). Chronology and spatial distribution of large mammal bones in Pit 91, Rancho La Brea. Palaios23(1), 35-42.

Harris, JM (Ed.) 2015.  La Brea and Beyond: The Paleontology of Asphalt-Preserved Biotas. Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, Science Series (42), 174 pp.

Holden, A. R., Southon, J. R., Will, K., Kirby, M. E., Aalbu, R. L., & Markey, M. J. (2017). A 50,000 year insect record from Rancho La Brea, Southern California: Insights into past climate and fossil deposition. Quaternary Science Reviews168, 123-136.

Jefferson, G. T., & Goldin, J. L. (1989). Seasonal migration of Bison antiquus from Rancho La Brea, California. Quaternary Research31(1), 107-112.

Koch, P. L., & Barnosky, A. D. (2006). Late Quaternary extinctions: state of the debate. Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics37.

Merriam, J. C. (1911). The fauna of Rancho La Brea (Vol. 1, No. 2). The University Press.

Spencer, L. M., Van Valkenburgh, B., & Harris, J. M. (2003). Taphonomic analysis of large mammals recovered from the Pleistocene Rancho La Brea tar seeps. Paleobiology29(4), 561-575.

Van Valkenburgh, B., & Hertel, F. (1993). Tough times at La Brea: tooth breakage in large carnivores of the late Pleistocene. SCIENCE-NEW YORK THEN WASHINGTON-, 456-456.

Woodard, G. D., & Marcus, L. F. (1973). Rancho La Brea fossil deposits: a re-evaluation from stratigraphic and geological evidence. Journal of Paleontology, 54-69.


Barnosky AD, Matzke N, Tomiya S, Wogan G, Swartz B, Quental T, Marshall C, McGuire JL, Lindsey EL, Maguire KC, Mersey B, Ferrer EA (2011).  Has the earth’s sixth mass extinction already arrived? Nature 471: 51-57.

Brown, C., Balisi, M., Shaw, C. A., & Van Valkenburgh, B. (2017). Skeletal trauma reflects hunting behaviour in extinct sabre-tooth cats and dire wolves. Nature ecology & evolution1(5), 131.

DeSantis, L. R., & Haupt, R. J. (2014). Cougars’ key to survival through the Late Pleistocene extinction: insights from dental microwear texture analysis. Biology letters10(4), 20140203.

Fuller, B. T., Southon, J. R., Fahrni, S. M., Harris, J. M., Farrell, A. B., Takeuchi, G. T., ... & Taylor, R. E. (2016). Tar Trap: No Evidence of Domestic Dog Burial with “La Brea Woman”. PaleoAmerica2(1), 56-59.

Holden, A. R., Harris, J. M., & Timm, R. M. (2013). Paleoecological and taphonomic implications of insect-damaged Pleistocene vertebrate remains from Rancho La Brea, southern California. PloS one8(7), e67119.

Lindsey EL, Lopez EX (2015).  Tanque Loma, a new late-Pleistocene megafaunal tar seep locality from southwest Ecuador.  Journal of South American Earth Sciences 57: 61-82.

Louys, J. (Ed.) 2012.  Paleontology in Ecology and Conservation.  Springer Berlin Heidelberg.  273 pp.

Stock, C. (1929). A census of the Pleistocene mammals of Rancho La Brea, based on the collections of the Los Angeles Museum. Journal of Mammalogy10(4), 281-289.

Ward, J. K., Harris, J. M., Cerling, T. E., Wiedenhoeft, A., Lott, M. J., Dearing, M. D., ... & Ehleringer, J. R. (2005). Carbon starvation in glacial trees recovered from the La Brea tar pits, southern California. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America102(3), 690-694.