David Walters, Ph.D.
David has been a research ecologist with the USGS since 2008. Prior to that, he was an ecologist for the U.S. EPA, National Exposure Research Laboratory for 6 years. He is a freshwater ecologist with broad training in stream ecology, human impacts on aquatic ecosystems, and ecotoxicology. His current research topics include food webs and contaminant flux, aquatic-riparian linkages, stream fish ecology, land use and climate change, and invasive species. He currently leads the Aquatic Ecology and Contaminants Team at the Fort Collins Science Center where the team investigates various human impacts to aquatic and riparian systems using field studies, manipulative experiments, and modeling.
- Ph.D. Ecology, University of Georgia (UGA), 2002
- M.S. Conservation Ecology, UGA, 1997
- B.A. Anthropology, UGA, 1991
Current Projects/Areas of Interest
- Riparian indicators of contaminant exposure at Great Lakes Areas of Concern (AOCs)
We are investigating contaminant flux from aquatic to nearby terrestrial (riparian) shoreline habitats. In particular we use riparian spiders (many of which feed almost exclusively on adult aquatic insects) to characterize contamination at these sites and to evaluate the effectiveness of their remediation.
- Leaky rivers: Nutrient retention and productivity in Rocky Mountain streams under alternative stable states
This project investigates how the volume of wood and log jams have declined in Rocky Mountain streams since European settlement, how the loss of wood affects stream geomorphology, communities, nutrient cycling, and productivity, and what management actions can be taken to restore lost ecosystem functions.
- Mechanisms for metal uptake and trophic transfer in stream and riparian food webs in mineralized landscapes
We are investigating how metals in streams (derived from natural geologic sources as well as mines) are transferred from streams to riparian zones and how this contamination alters ecological linkages between these systems. This work combines large-scale field studies with mesocosm experiments to better understand processes driving the patterns we observe in nature.
- “Metal webs” for the Grand Canyon
We are developing quantitative food webs to measure metal flux (mercury, selenium, and other trace metals) in the Colorado and Little Colorado rivers in Grand Canyon. These studies will identify key pathways of metal exposure to important fish species, such as the endangered humpback chub.
- Consequences of climate change for alpine lake-stream networks and native fishes in the southern Rocky Mountains
This project investigates the importance of alpine lakes in the ecology of native cutthroat trout and how lakes could mitigate the negative effects of rising temperatures on these threatened populations.
Science and Products
Aquatic invertebrates are a key component of freshwater ecosystems, and an understanding of aquatic invertebrate taxonomy is central to freshwater science. The U.S. Geological Survey Aquatic Experimental Lab (AXL) at the Fort Collins Science Center has developed the North American Aquatic Macroinvertebrate Digital Reference Collection (NAAMDRC) to provide users with a graphic tool to aid in...
The Aquatic Ecology and Contaminants Team investigates critical ecological processes operating in aquatic and riparian ecosystems and how these processes are affected by human activities. We address questions through a combination of field studies, laboratory experiments, and modeling, while working at multiple levels of biological organization from cells through ecosystems. Topics include...
Cold-water fishes like trout, salmon, and charr are especially vulnerable to shifting conditions related to climate change; for example, warmer temperatures and more variable hydroclimate. Native cutthroat trout of the southern Rocky Mountains now only occupy a tiny fraction of their historic habitats because of stressors such as non-native fishes, habitat fragmentation, and detrimental land...
Most aquatic insects live in fresh water as larvae and move to land as flying adults to complete their life cycle. Although often ignored, the emergence of adults can transfer the effects of contamination from aquatic to terrestrial ecosystems as the adults are eaten by predators such as spiders, birds, and bats.
To create this dataset the authors exposed larval mayflies (Baetis tricaudatus) to an aqueous zinc gradient (3-340 µg Zn/l) and measured the change in zinc tissue concentrations at different stages of metamorphosis and changes in stable isotopes (δ15N and δ13C) in unexposed B. tricaudatus. Zinc concentrations in larvae and adults were positively related to aqueous concentrations.
Aquatic invertebrates are a key component of freshwater ecosystems, and an understanding of aquatic invertebrate taxonomy is central to freshwater science. The North American Aquatic Macroinvertebrate Digital Reference Collection (NAAMDRC) was created by the USGS Aquatic Experimental Lab (AXL) to provide users with high-quality digital microscopy photographs.
Pulsed salmonfly emergence and its potential contribution to terrestrial detrital pools
Adult aquatic insects are a globally important subsidy in terrestrial food webs. However, our understanding of their importance is largely limited to studies that measure predation of live insects by terrestrial predators. Yet the flux of adult aquatic insects to terrestrial detrital pools may also be an important...Wesner, Jeff; Walters, David; Zuellig, Robert E.
A diverse suite of pharmaceuticals contaminates stream and riparian food webs
A multitude of biologically active pharmaceuticals contaminate surface waters globally, yet their presence in aquatic food webs remain largely unknown. Here, we show that over 60 pharmaceutical compounds can be detected in aquatic invertebrates and riparian spiders in six streams near Melbourne, Australia. Similar concentrations in aquatic...Richmond, Erinn K.; Rosi, Emma J.; Walters, David M.; Fikk, Jerker; Hamilton, Stephen K.; Brodin, Tomas; Sundelin, Anna; Grace, Michael R.
Riparian spiders indicate the magnitude and sources of polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) contamination at a large contaminated sediment site
We investigated PCB contamination at the Ashtabula River Area of Concern (AOC) following remedial dredging using araneid and tetragnathid spiders. PCB concentrations remain elevated in the AOC compared to reference conditions. Patterns of contamination were strikingly similar between taxa, but were higher in tetragnathids at the most contaminated...Walters, David M.; Otter, Ryan R.; Kraus, Johanna M.; Mills, Marc A.
Shifting stream planform state decreases stream productivity yet increases riparian animal production
In the Colorado Front Range (USA), disturbance history dictates stream planform. Undisturbed, old-growth streams have multiple channels and large amounts of wood and depositional habitat. Disturbed streams (wildfires and logging < 200 years ago) are single-channeled with mostly erosional habitat. We tested how these opposing stream states...Venarsky, Michael P.; Walters, David M.; Hall, Robert O.; Livers, Bridget; Wohl, Ellen
Importance of growth rate on mercury and polychlorinated biphenyl bioaccumulation in fish
To evaluate the effect of fish growth on mercury (Hg) and polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) bioaccumulation, a non–steady‐state toxicokinetic model, combined with a Wisconsin bioenergetics model, was developed to simulate Hg and PCB bioaccumulation in bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus). The model was validated by comparing observed with predicted Hg and...Li, Jiajia; Haffner, G. Douglas; Patterson, Gordon; Walters, David M.; Burtnyk, Michael D.; Drouillard, Ken G.
Chronic wasting disease—Status, science, and management support by the U.S. Geological Survey
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) investigates chronic wasting disease (CWD) at multiple science centers and cooperative research units across the Nation and supports the management of CWD through science-based strategies. CWD research conducted by USGS scientists has three strategies: (1) to understand the biology, ecology, and causes and...Carlson, Christina M.; Hopkins, M. Camille ; Nguyen, Natalie T.; Richards, Bryan J.; Walsh, Daniel P.; Walter, W. David
Holy flux: Spatial and temporal variation in massive pulses of emerging insect biomass from western U.S. rivers
The river stonefly, Pteronarcys californica (aka salmonfly), is an iconic insect in rivers of western North America due to its large size and its support of economically important species like wild trout (Nehring et al. 2011). Their emergence generates a large economic subsidy to local communities, as anglers from around the world...Walters, David; Wesner, Jeff S.; Zuellig, Robert E.; Kowalski, Dan A.; Kondratieff, Matt C.
A digital reference collection for aquatic macroinvertebrates of North America
Aquatic invertebrates are a key component of freshwater ecosystems, and understanding aquatic invertebrate taxonomy is a cornerstone of freshwater science. Physical reference collections of expertly identified voucher specimens are the ‘gold-standard’ used to confirm specimen identifications. However, most biologists lack access to such...Walters, David; Ford, Morgan A; Zuellig, Robert E.
Carbon dynamics of river corridors and the effects of human alterations
Research in stream metabolism, gas exchange, and sediment dynamics indicates that rivers are an active component of the global carbon cycle and that river form and process can influence partitioning of terrestrially derived carbon among the atmosphere, geosphere, and ocean. Here we develop a conceptual model of carbon dynamics (inputs, outputs,...Wohl, Ellen; Hall, Robert O.; Lininger, Katherine B.; Sutfin, Nicholas A.; Walters, David
Thermal regimes of Rocky Mountain lakes warm with climate change
Anthropogenic climate change is causing a wide range of stresses in aquatic ecosystems, primarily through warming thermal conditions. Lakes, in response to these changes, are experiencing increases in both summer temperatures and ice-free days. We used continuous records of lake surface temperature and air temperature to create statistical models...Roberts, James J.; Fausch, Kurt D.; Schmidt, Travis S.; Walters, David M.
Zinc concentrations and isotopic signatures of an aquatic insect (mayfly, Baetis tricaudatus)
Insect metamorphosis often results in substantial chemical changes that can fractionate isotopes and alter contaminant concentrations. We exposed larval mayflies (Baetis tricaudatus) to an aqueous zinc gradient (3-340 µg Zn/l) and measured the change in zinc tissue concentrations at different stages of metamorphosis. We also measured changes in...Wesner, Jeff S; Walters, David; Schmidt, Travis S.; Kraus, Johanna M.; Stricker, Craig A.; Clements, William H.
Metamorphosis affects metal concentrations and isotopic signatures in a mayfly (Baetis tricaudatus): Implications for the aquatic-terrestrial transfer of metals
Insect metamorphosis often results in substantial chemical changes that can alter contaminant concentrations and fractionate isotopes. We exposed larval mayflies (Baetis tricaudatus) and their food (periphyton) to an aqueous zinc gradient (3-340 µg Zn/l) and measured zinc concentrations at different stages of metamorphosis: larval, subimago, and...Wesner, Jeff S.; Walters, David; Schmidt, Travis S.; Kraus, Johanna M.; Stricker, Craig A.; Clements, William H.; Wolf, Ruth E.