Kennesaw State professor’s research moves upstream

KENNESAW, Ga. | Sep 27, 2021

Troy Mutchler
Troy Mutchler

Whether it’s in the shallows along the Florida Gulf Coast or a stream near Atlanta, Kennesaw State assistant professor of biology Troy Mutchler often finds himself knee-deep in his research.

“It’s one of the nice things about my work—I get out in the field and spend time outdoors,” he said. “I’m fortunate to do what I do and help the environment in the process.”

Mutchler studies human effects on underwater plant ecosystems, and he sought to find out why some coastal plants were dying at increasing rates. His research uncovered elevated metabolic rates of bacteria in the water that led to the decline in seagrass communities. He traced those levels to the estuaries that emptied into his research sites on the Georgia Atlantic coast and the Florida Gulf Coast.

Now, Mutchler and his research team have a grant through KSU’s Creative Activities and Research Experiences for Teams (CARET) program to mitigate the amount of bacteria in the water. In collaboration with associate professor of biology Thomas McElroy, the group will accomplish that by addressing issues with urbanization farther upstream, limiting the impacts of growing urban areas on these estuaries.

“One of my research interests is to look at how humans impact aquatic food webs, and how urbanization affects stream communities,” he said. “I've historically done most of that in marine environments along the coasts of Florida and Georgia, but recently I’ve taken the research into stream environments as well.”

That move has helped Mutchler engage more undergraduate students in his research, as Atlanta-area streams offer a nearby environment rich for study. He said he has teamed with the Georgia Aquarium on a study in which Mutchler and his undergraduate researchers collect and sort trash from Peachtree Creek about every two weeks.

“We classify the trash by the kinds of materials we find and try to determine the amount of trash in a certain area of the creek,” Mutchler said. “Hopefully that will serve as baseline data for implementation of something like a trash removal system for these streams.”

Troy Mutchler
Human impacts have human solutions, and Mutchler’s research offers insights into how people can lessen their impact on the environment. Along with increasing amounts of trash in creek beds well upstream of the coasts, he has data that point to fertilizer and other agricultural chemicals seeping into critical estuaries before they end up in coastal ecosystems, causing issues such as toxic algae blooms. Mutchler says that means people must change the way they use the land.

As a professor, Mutchler said he believes he has an opportunity to effect change.

“Through education, we can help people understand science and how it can be used to address issues in their everyday life,” Mutchler said. “That knowledge is what will help us find solutions to environmental issues.”

Ultimately, Mutchler said he’d like his research to inform environmental policy and conservation at a governmental level while preserving water-based ecosystems for future generations.

“I'd like to get more into that applied aspect of making this research useful for everyone,” he said. “So those are long-term goals for my research lab, and hopefully we can accomplish some of them. These are not easy problems to solve, so it may take a long time to get there, but that's the goal.”

– Dave Shelles

Photos by David Caselli

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A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 43,000 students. Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia with 11 academic colleges. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 7 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit