August 2022 eNews

Meet the Researcher, Zachary Mitchell, Assistant Professor, Eastern New Mexico University

Meet the Researcher, Zachary Mitchell, Assistant Professor, Eastern New Mexico University

By Jeanette Torres, NM WRRI Program Coordinator

Zachary Mitchell is an assistant professor at Eastern New Mexico University in Portales, New Mexico. He teaches ecology and aquatic science courses throughout the school year, including Fisheries Management and Conservation, Limnology, Aquatic Ecology, and Wildlife Biology. Mitchell currently mentors three graduate students and several undergraduate students who are either assisting on Mitchell’s current projects or working on their own research tasks. According to Mitchell, “The most important role of my position is to teach students the necessary knowledge and skills that will make them successful after college in the biological/natural resources field.” Mitchell’s undergraduate student, Justin Schleusner, was recently awarded a New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute (NM WRRI) Student Water Research Grant for his project titled, Effects of turbidity on fish behavior and community structure in New Mexico Rivers. This project was featured in the July edition of eNews.

Mitchell’s expertise centers around fisheries and aquatic science field sampling techniques. “My research generally focuses on testing ecological theory to better understand the patterns and processes of species distribution and community structure in freshwater ecosystems to better inform conservation and management actions . . .  I am particularly interested in the impacts of natural and anthropogenic disturbance events on stream community form and function,” Mitchell states. In addition to this research, he is currently working on a few projects related to the thermal ecology of riverine organisms. To further these efforts, his lab received funding to develop a long-term monitoring program on the Pecos River to better understand the driving factors of community structure.

Mitchell earned his BS (2014) with honors in Wildlife, Fisheries, and Aquaculture Science from the College of Forestry at Mississippi State University in Starkville. The Department of Biological Sciences awarded his MS (2016) in Biological Sciences at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston. Focusing on Aquatic Resources and Integrative Biology, Mitchell pursued his PhD from the Department of Biology at Texas State University in San Marcos and graduated in 2020. He has five published peer-reviewed manuscripts with several others in preparation. When asked about his motivation to become a researcher, he mentioned that he has been an avid outdoorsman for most of his life and enjoyed learning about the science, management, and conservation of ecosystems during his early undergraduate years.

When asked what one of the most significant issues within his research field is, Mitchell mentions that the “negative impacts associated with climate change and growing human populations are a concern to rivers. In the southwestern US, increasing drought frequency and magnitude is troubling… Water is life, and we need to learn how to use it sustainably.” This concern has led him to seek a better understanding of how decreasing water availability will impact aquatic communities across multiple spatial and temporal scales. In the future, Mitchell hopes to collaborate with NM WRRI on manipulative experiments examining drought and flood impacts on riverine community structures. He anticipates that such projects of this caliber would help clarify groundwater availability and how these sources influence river communities.