Researchers in Residence (MSLC)

The Murie Science and Learning Center, located in Denali National Park, has hosted one or more researchers-in-residence each year, since 2012.

Wildlife and Natural History Artist

Karen Carr
Karen Carr Studio, Inc

One of the most compelling yet under-publicized research areas in Denali is paleontology. Dinosaur footprints were found in the park in 2005. Since that time scientists have conducted extensive investigations to understand the life histories of the animals that created them and the environments in which they lived. Visitors are hungry to know more about the subarctic dinosaurs that formerly roamed Denali and what the climate, vegetation and topography was like during that period. However, it is difficult to engage visitors in the science of paleontology through footprints and leaf fossils alone. What Denali lacks is accurate visual depictions of dinosaurs and ancient landscapes that can unlock new levels of understanding and amazement for visitors of all ages.

Karen Carr is an internationally-renowned artist who has created many scientifically-rigorous paleo-landscape murals for museums. During the spring of 2013 she will work with an Alaska paleo science team, including Denali's geologist and other Alaska paleontologists to compile and master the information necessary to create a mural depicting Denali in the Cretaceous Period. The mural will be designed for semi-permanent display in the Murie Science and Learning Center. During the summer of 2013 she will create the mural at her studio in New Mexico with continuous input from the science team. Throughout this process she will create PR materials and images for release to news outlets, school groups, tourism organizations, local print and electronic media, etc. She and the science team will also post to a blog and Skype with local youth and Denali visitors about the scientific process of deriving visual dinosaur and paleoenvironment images from fossils. Black-and-white layout images from the draft stages of the mural creation will be made available for youth education products such as junior ranger books. Karen's artwork is digital, so components of her mural can be easily integrated into educational outreach products including websites and web-based curricula.

Karen will visit Denali in August 2013 for a public presentation on the scientific-artistic process of creating the mural and for its public unveiling. Most of her residency will have taken place prior to her visit via videoconference with the science team, local youth and Denali visitors. Karen will spend a week in the park visiting the dinosaur dance floor, interacting with researchers and the public, and gaining momentum for future collaborations with Alaska paleontologists and science educators.

Karen has been a history and wildlife illustrator for more than fifteen years, serving museums and scientific institutions in North America, Europe and Asia. Her images are in use by the Audubon Society, National Museum in London, the Smithsonian Institution, The Field Museum, the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology, the National Museum of the US Marine Corps, and many others. For examples of her work and more information visit


The Effects of a Century of Climate Change on Denali's Small Mammal Fauna

Link Olson, Ph.D.
University of Alaska Museum; University of Alaska Fairbanks

Dr. Link Olson is the Curator of Mammals at the University of Alaska Museum, and Associate Professor in the Department of Biology and Wildlife, University of Alaska Fairbanks. He is an evolutionary mammalogist interested in the systematics, phylogeography, and ecology of small mammals. Together with his students and colleagues, he is investigating the effects of recent climate change on the size, distribution, and genetic diversity of Alaska's small mammals. Because countless field biologists, trappers, hunters, and naturalists gathered voucher specimens of and recorded information about Alaska's mammals over the last century, now museums and other repositories throughout North America hold this accumulated wealth of information to review in comparison with similar collections and notes taken about today's mammals.

Over the summer and fall of 2013 (dates to be determined), Olson will be a resident in Denali and revisit areas of the park that were surveyed for small mammals from 50 to 115 years ago. From sampling "now" and records of sampling "then," he will be able to determine whether or not significant changes have occurred and if those changes are related to climate change.

Insect Pollinator Diversity and Distribution in Denali

2012 Researcher-in-Residence
Jessica Rykken, Ph.D.
Harvard University

Dr. Jessica Rykken is a Research Associate at the Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University. She is bringing her interest in insect pollinators to Denali. Insects that are pollinators are an often under-appreciated component of Denali's fauna, yet they are critical to the maintenance of helathy plant communities and functioning ecosystems in the park. 

As part of her residency at Denali, Jessica will use a variety of sampling methods (bowl, vane, and malaise traps, as well as netting) to inventory a variety of habitats for insect pollinators, specifically bees and flower flies. At present, it is not known how many species of these resident pollinators there are, or what plants in what habitats they frequent. Some pollinator species may be or become at risk of disappearing from Denali's habitats because of climate change. An inventory in 2012 can serve as a baseline for future monitoring of changes in pollinator diversity, and to help identify those pollinators that might be the "canary" of the insect world. Pollinators in habitats that are more and less vulnerable to a changing climate can be compared.

Jessica Rykken is in residence in Denali from June 20 to July 27, 2012. Opportunities will exist to accompany Jessica in the field; volunteers can help with setting out and gathering in traps to collect pollinators. Jessica will share information with staff and visitors through a variety of programs.

Last updated: December 15, 2014