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In memoriam: William Walton

William Walton
The UC Riverside Department of Entomology, the University of California, and the field of vector ecology have lost one of their most dedicated, productive, and beloved scientists. William E. (Bill) Walton, professor of entomology, passed away at the UC Irvine Medical Center on Oct. 18, 2020, from B-cell lymphoma. He was 64 years old.

Bill was born in Connecticut to Edward, an administrator at the University of Bridgeport, and Ruth, an elementary school teacher. Bill especially enjoyed swimming and paddling a canoe on the lake near his home as he was growing up. His father served as a scout and official team historian for the Boston Red Sox, and Bill remained a loyal and lifelong Red Sox fan.

Bill graduated with a B.S. in zoology from the University of Rhode Island (URI) in 1978. A key early mentor was Nelson Hairston at URI. Bill was a star student in Hairston's limnology class and soon participated in collecting trips to local ponds and worked in the Hairston laboratory. This launched Bill into a career as an aquatic ecologist with fascinating studies at URI on cladoceran evolution and diapause. One of Bill's first studies with Hairston was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, an amazing and certainly auspicious beginning for an undergraduate. Bill also later worked with Hairston at Cornell University on fish vision and prey selection.

Bill obtained his M.S. (1982) and Ph.D. (1986) in zoology/aquatic ecology from the University of Maryland where he worked with the famous aquatic ecologist J. David Allen. This sound foundation in aquatic ecology served Bill well his entire career. He first turned his skills toward medical entomology as a postdoc from 1987 to 1990 working on mosquito ecology with Mir Mulla at UCR, a towering figure in the field of mosquito control. Bill's ability and willingness to bring his superb basic-science skills to bear on applied problems in medical entomology were important factors in his being hired on the UCR Entomology faculty in January 1995.

Mosquitoes are critically important vectors of disease agents such as West Nile virus, and they can be serious biting pests as well. Mosquito control in arid regions, such as Southern California, hinges on strategic management of water sources where the immature mosquitoes are found. These sites often are man-made, ranging from storm drains and catchment basins to large, managed marshes. The latter provide wildlife habitat, human recreation, and encourage natural microbial degradation of pollutants in wastewater and thus improve water quality. Bill created a specialized niche addressing mosquito production issues as related to water quality and management in these anthropogenic sources. He and a number of graduate students worked with colleagues with different areas of expertise, such as environmental health or engineering, and from different agencies. Bill's many publications addressing the complex ecology and variable designs of these wastewater management systems as they relate to mosquito control are absolute classics in that field.

His laboratory also produced many publications on interactions between mosquitoes and natural enemies. Some of the more recent work exposed the fascinating fact that mosquitoes both detect and avoid semiochemicals produced by a key predator, the widely used mosquitofish, Gambusia affinis. This has obvious potential applications for management. At the operational level, larval mosquitoes are controlled primarily using bacterial larvicides, notably Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis (Bti) and Lysinibacillus sphaericus. With UCR entomologist Margaret Wirth (a staff research associate in Bill's lab) and noted insect pathologist Brian Federici, a tremendous series of papers was produced delving deeply into the modes of action of bacterial larvicides and the evolution of resistance. These are also classics.

Recently Bill's laboratory had been working intensively on surveillance and on autodissemination of growth regulators and entomopathogenic fungi for mosquito reduction in hard-to-reach storm drain systems. David Popko, who received his M.S. with Bill, served as a superb technician in Bill's lab for many years and was first author on some of those studies. This illustrated Bill's management style: he had patience and great faith in his people and was happy for them to take credit for the tremendous work accomplished as part of his team.

No matter how busy he was, he would always make time for his students and lab members who might need to talk with him right away. Bill possessed an impressive ability to multitask and, although extremely busy, he always seemed to prioritize their needs. He readily embraced and steadfastly encouraged and supported interesting and sometimes diverse ideas his students or staff generated, utilizing techniques from fields as wide-ranging as water chemistry, microbiology, botany or molecular biology. Bill thus was both able and eager to branch out beyond the narrow focus that characterizes research in many laboratories. This itself is the hallmark of a great ecologist.

Bill's wide-ranging activities in aquatic ecology and mosquito control at UCR resulted in over 130 refereed scientific publications, conference symposia, and review articles, plus a number of comprehensive and influential book chapters and position papers. Bill was known and appreciated for his excellent, sustained collaborative work with mosquito abatement districts over his entire career, particularly those in the Southern California region. They held him in high esteem and he reciprocated that feeling. He believed in and supported their mission, crossed the line between basic and applied science with natural ease, and thus exemplified the ideal agricultural experiment station scientist. 

Bill was a remarkably effective and dedicated teacher and taught several classes, most notably Insect Ecology (ENTM 127), Introductory Ecology and Evolution (BIOL 5C), and Aquatic Insects (ENTM 114). The latter was designed together with Brad Mullens as the kind of intensive field ecology course that is rarely taught these days. It featured numerous afternoon or weekend field trips, completion of an extensive insect collection, and participation in a group aquatic bioassessment project using the aquatic insect community and a wide variety of water and physical habitat metrics to assess stream health and water quality in upper and lower reaches of the Santa Ana River, the largest river system in Southern California. The project required the class to function as a research team and each student had to provide a detailed write-up in scientific paper format. Students were specifically warned the first day of classes that, if they were looking for an easy class or to be anonymous, they should drop it immediately. And they for sure were going to get wet. Despite its intensity, both the students and instructors especially loved that class. Bill's efforts were greatly appreciated by both students and colleagues, and Bill was specifically recognized for his exceptional teaching prowess through several very prestigious teaching awards. These included being a National Academies Education Fellow in the Life Sciences (2013) and receiving the Outstanding Teaching Award on the UCR campus (2017), from USDA-NIFA (2018) and from the Entomological Society of America (2018). The entomology graduate students awarded him the Faculty Mentor Award in 2010, which he valued greatly. Bill trained many excellent graduate students and postdocs who have gone on to make major contributions themselves to the fields of vector ecology and medical entomology. Several of his students or postdocs are research leaders in the public health agencies and mosquito control districts with which Bill regularly interacted. 

Bill's service to entomology and vector ecology is truly remarkable, a credit to him and the UC system, and cannot be overstated. The service record is too voluminous to list in its entirety here, but includes serving on an immense variety of university and departmental committees and professional committees and editorial boards. One consistent theme was his unflagging support for student activities, such as organizing student symposia at meetings. He participated very actively in the California Mosquito and Vector Control Association for his entire career. Bill was very prominent in and served as president both of the Society for Vector Ecology (2013) and the American Mosquito Control Association (2018). He received the Outstanding Service Award from the Society for Vector Ecology in 2018. He enjoyed a close personal relationship with a number of national and international colleagues at these meetings, including regular participation in a wine-tasting group “meeting” in the evening after the business was done. He recently was instrumental in forming and was serving as co-director of the Pacific Southwest Center of Excellence in Vector-borne Diseases. This center has the goals of coordinating medical entomology training (and offering training grants) and fostering research efforts between scientists in the region and many partners in the vector control community.

Bill also served ably for many years as the UCR Department of Entomology vice-chair and as such helped guide the department's teaching missions and student funding efforts. He was a critical part of the glue that held the department together, ensuring the high research and teaching productivity that resulted in the UCR entomology department being ranked as one of the best in the world. The void left by his passing will not be easy to fill.

Bill enjoyed wine tasting and good conversation with friends and colleagues, hiking, biking and kayaking with his family. 

Bill leaves behind his wife of 28 years, Peggy Walton (retired research scientist), and their son Tyler (mechanical engineer). He also is survived by his mother Ruth D. Walton, his sister Susan and her husband Bud Peck, two nephews and a niece, all of whom live in Arizona. The family requests that their privacy be respected at this very difficult time. Due to COVID restrictions, no memorial service is planned at this time.

In lieu of flowers and gifts, please consider a contribution to the Dana-Farber Bing Center for Waldenstroms Macroglobulinemia or the Mayo Clinic. Cards for Peggy Walton may be mailed c/o Rick Redak, Entomology Bldg. 238, Citrus Drive, Riverside, CA 92521.

Bill's ready smile and laugh, optimism and genuinely friendly, helpful demeanor will be long remembered and sorely missed by so many of his colleagues, students and friends. May he rest in peace.

Posted on Friday, November 13, 2020 at 3:14 PM
  • Author: Brad Mullens and Alec Gerry

Names in the News

Mariano Galla
Galla named UCCE farm advisor in Glenn, Butte and Tehama counties

Mariano Galla joined UCCE on June 5 as an area agronomic cropping systems and weed science advisor in Glenn, Butte and Tehama counties.

Prior to joining UCCE, Galla was a research scientist from 2010 to 2014 at Agrisearch Services (now part of Eurofin Agroscience Australia), an Australian contract-research company with offices spread throughout the country. During his four years with the company, Galla worked in different locations across Australia, where he gained experience in different cropping systems and environments. He was responsible for establishing and conducting field trials in horticulture and broad acreage agronomy and with plant varieties.

Galla earned an M.S. in international agricultural development and a B.S. in agricultural sciences from University of Florence in Italy. He is currently studying herbicide drift as a Ph.D. candidate in weed science at UC Davis, and he anticipates completing his doctorate in spring 2018. He speaks Italian fluently.

Based in Orland, Galla can be reached at (530) 865-1105 and

Trish Bloemker Sowers
Sowers named executive director of 4-H Foundation

Trish Bloemker Sowers joined the Development Services team June 1 as the major gift officer/executive director of the 4-H Foundation. She is a seasoned development professional with more than a decade of major and principal gifts experience in the university setting. She has worked with collegiate alumni, parents and friends as well as corporate and foundation partners at a variety of institutions, including Carnegie Mellon University, Missouri University of Science & Technology and UC Davis. In addition, Sowers has served as an executive director to a variety of trade and professional association leaders, a role in which she excelled at chapter management, board development and volunteer recruitment. 

While she takes great pride in her previous development work, Sowers is especially excited to help strengthen and enhance the CA 4-H Foundation. 4-H is the organization that has had the greatest impact on her life and there has never been a cause in which she believes more passionately than 4-H. 

Sowers, a 10-year 4-H alumna, represented the Nebraska 4-H program as a state and national leadership winner at the National 4-H Congress, where she was selected to receive the Silver Presidential Tray for outstanding leadership. In addition, she was a delegate to the National 4-H Conference, served as a member of the Nebraska Teen Awareness Team and held key leadership roles in four consecutive state conferences. 

Sowers is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma and earned her master's degree at the University of Nebraska, while working full time in the Nebraska State 4-H office. She is a Certified Fund Raising Executive and an active volunteer for several educational and philanthropic organizations. 

Based at the ANR building in Davis, Sowers can be reached at (530) 750-1202 and

Bryan Schneider
Schneider named CNAS communications director

Bryan Schneider joined UC Riverside's College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences as its director of communications on June 19. In this role, he will oversee digital, web and print communications, along with marketing and events management, for the college, working closely with UCR's Strategic Communications office on media relations and various communications initiatives.

Working in higher education for over 17 years, Schneider came to UCR from the Claremont Colleges, where he co-managed the communications office for Claremont McKenna College. He also led award-winning marketing and web development teams for the Health Sciences enterprise at the University of Southern California, which included the Keck Medical Center of USC and the Keck School of Medicine. Prior to that, he led communications efforts at the USC Annenberg Center on Communication and Claremont Graduate University.

Prior to his career in public communications, Schneider was a grant writer and prospect researcher in development. He studied anthropology at UCLA and the University of Michigan.

Schneider is based in the CNAS Dean's Office in the Geology Building at UCR and can be reached at (951) 827-5304 and

Messenger-Sikes and Fontecha join IPM

Belinda Messenger-Sikes
Belinda Messenger-Sikes joined UC IPM as an urban writer/editor on May 1. Messenger-Sikes will update Pest Notes publications and contribute to the Urban IPM Program's newsletters, blogs, online training course development and other materials. She will also assist academics and staff in developing curricula for various training materials aimed at UC Master Gardeners, retailers, pest management professionals and other urban audiences.

Messenger-Sikes holds a Ph.D. in plant pathology from UC Riverside. Her dissertation studied the use of calcium soil amendments for control of Phytophthora root rot of avocado. After graduating, she worked as a mycologist in the discovery section of AgraQuest, a biopesticide company in Davis. In 2000, she joined the pest management program at the California Department of Pesticide Regulation, where she worked in both urban and agricultural IPM. She initiated the school and child care IPM program and worked as the child care IPM specialist for eight years. Messenger-Sikes specialized in outreach and education of school staff and child care providers, introducing new users to the concepts and practices of IPM.

Messenger-Sikes is located at the ANR building in Davis. She can be reached at and at (530) 750-1395.

Kathreen Fontecha
Kathreen Fontecha joined UC IPM as the web production coordinator and UI/UX designer on April 3. Fontecha will ensure a consistent and tested online design and user experience for the UC IPM website and digital products. She will produce wireframes and mockups, as well as create final HTML and CSS prototypes. Fontecha will coordinate and ensure that IPM content is clearly laid out and quickly and efficiently published to the UC IPM website. Working with the IT/Production staff, her first goal is to transition the website to a more mobile friendly look and feel.

Fontecha is joining UC IPM from ANR Communication Services and Information Technology (CSIT), where she was the senior artist working on producing print and digital materials for UC ANR publications, California Agriculture magazine article layouts, newsletters, infographics, signage and presentations. In addition to print production, she provided web strategy and user experience design. In this role, Fontecha developed wireframes and prototypes that provided efficient user interaction and considerations for responsive web design. 

Before CSIT, Fontecha worked for the California Lighting Technology Center (CLTC) at UC Davis as their senior graphic designer. She managed and produced CLTC's visual communications, including publications, photography and the design and content management of their website.

Fontecha is located at the ANR building in Davis. She can be reached at (530) 750-1386 and

LeChé McGill
McGill named to Council of UC Staff Assemblies 

LeChé McGill, academic human resources business consultant, has been named the junior delegate for UC ANR to the Council of UC Staff Assemblies. In this role, she also now has a position on the UC ANR Staff Assembly Council. The current chair of UC ANR Staff Assembly, Matt Baur, and co-chair Christina Adamson, have one more year on their two-year terms at the helm.

All ANR staff employees are members of the ANR Staff Assembly. The elected leaders of the group seek staff input on policies, processes and programs and serve in an advisory capacity to ANR leadership, giving staff a collective voice on issues of concern. 

Surls' book wins Gold Medal

From Cows to Concrete” by Rachel Surls, UC Cooperative Extension sustainable food systems advisor in Los Angeles County, and Judith Gerber has earned the Gold Medal in the category of Regional (Adult Nonfiction) in the 19th annual Foreword Reviews Book of the Year Awards.

The announcement was made during the American Library Association's Annual Conference in Chicago on June 24. The awards recognize the best books published in 2016 from small, independent and university presses.

From the earliest pueblo cornfields to the struggles of farm workers to the rise of the environmental movement, "From Cows to Concrete" chronicles the epic tale of how agriculture forged Los Angeles into an urban metropolis, and how, ultimately, this farm empire spurred the very growth that paved it over, as sprawling suburbs swallowed up thousands of acres of prime farmland.

Surls and Gerber tell the continuing story of how, on the same land once squandered by corporate greed and “progress,” urban farmers are making inroads to a greener future. More than 150 vintage images expand the fascinating, detailed history.

Gerber, a second-generation Angeleno, is a farm and garden authority who has written about sustainable and urban farming, local foods and organic gardening for more than 20 years.

Over 2,000 entries were submitted in 66 categories, with Foreword's editors choosing the finalists, and a panel of over 150 librarians and booksellers acting as judges to pick the winners.

The book, published by Angel City Press, is available at 

Steve Elliott

Elliott and Garvey win ACE awards

Two communicators affiliated with UC ANR won a total of five awards for their writing and photography in a competition sponsored by the international Association for Communication Excellence in Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Life and Human Sciences (ACE). The awards were presented at the ACE meeting, held June 13-16 in New Orleans.

Steve Elliott, communication coordinator for the Western Integrated Pest Management Center, received a gold award in promotional writing for his story, "Safflower Makes an Areawide IPM Program Work," published in the Western Front newsletter. Judges scored his work 100 out of a possible 100, saying, "You had me at Rodney Dangerfield. Very creative, the lead drew me right in wanting to read more. Excellent flow, packed with information in a narrative style. Congratulations on the terrific analytics for the newsletter."

He also received a bronze for his photo essay, "Loving the Land of Enchantment." Judges wrote: "Good variety of shot sizes which keeps it interesting. Diversity of stories along with photo content is engaging, and sticking to the IPM theme helps. There is so much text info that it was difficult to wade through. The words compliment the photos instead of the usual where the story supersedes the photos."


Garvey won a bronze ACE award for this photo of a monarch butterfly.

Kathy Keatley Garvey, communications specialist for the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, received a silver award (second place) for a photo series entitled the "Predator and the Pest: What's for Dinner?" on her Bug Squad post on the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources website on Oct. 3, 2016. Her series showed a praying mantis eating a cabbage white butterfly. Judges commented, "Definitely tells a story, interesting angles and good macro technique. Caught in the moment, but has a still life feel to it, like it's a diorama in a museum and we get to look at the scene from all sides. A unique look and good capture.?"

Garvey also won a bronze award for her feature photo "Save the Monarchs," posted Aug. 8, 2016, on her Bug Squad blog. It showed a monarch clinging to a finger. Judges said, "The detail in this photo is incredible. The lighting on the hand against the black background is definitely striking. And it makes the white spots on the monarch pop! Beautiful!"

This WSU-tagged monarch was featured in a Bug Squad blog post that won an ACE award. Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey

"WSU-Tagged Monarch: What a Traveler!" earned her a bronze award (third place) for blog writing on her Bug Squad blog. Judges wrote: "Short and sweet and to the point. Perfect for web reading. The photo is so helpful to the reader. The call to action at the end is a plus and not something I've seen on other entries. Fabulous use of social media to extend the reach of the article, too." – Kathy Keatley Garvey

William Walton
Walton wins Western Region NIFA teaching award

William Walton, a professor of entomology at UC Riverside, has been selected as the recipient of the 2017 Western Region Award for Excellence in College and University Teaching in the Food and Agricultural Sciences. He will be recognized at the Western Region Joint Summer Meeting in Portland, Ore., on July 12. 

The award, given by National Institute of Food and Agriculture at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, recognizes exceptional and innovative teaching in college and university agricultural and food science programs. Recipients exhibit “sustained, meritorious and exceptional teaching” that is “fundamental to recruiting and retaining the scientific and professional expertise essential to the future growth and progress of our nation's food and agricultural system.”

Each nominee is judged on teaching quality, philosophy of teaching and teaching methodology, service to the teaching profession and professional growth in teaching, professional growth and scholarly activity, and service to students.

“I have formulated my teaching goals and outcomes with the following thought in mind: if I ran into a former student on the street five years from now, what concepts in insect ecology would I hope that this person has retained?” Walton said. “I want my courses to provide benefits that transcend the subject matter, but I also want to balance new developments in pedagogy and technology with a fundamental understanding of the subject matter. Students need to be informed and inquisitive citizens who appreciate that learning is fun and a life-long process.”

Walton's laboratory works on integrating studies of mosquito biology and ecology with the design of control methodologies for pestiferous and pathogen-transmitting mosquitoes in wetlands. He was a National Academies Education Fellow in the Life Sciences, has served as president of the Society for Vector Ecology, and is president-elect of the American Mosquito Control Association. – Iqbal Pitalwalla


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