And yes, bringing an umbrella to field work doesn’t sound very adventurous, but it can be really helpful in torrential rain. Finally, listen out for howler monkeys since they make for good alarm systems in the rain forest.

Our May REWIRE Fellow of the Month is Lucia Fuchslueger, a soil biologist at the Department of Microbiology and Ecosystem Science. Lucia is our “oldest” REWIRE fellow, since she was the first to start the fellowship back in 2020. In this interview Lucia talks about her research project, her experiences of working in the rain forest and provides useful advice for early career post docs.

Describe your research in one sentence.

Lucia: I am studying how soil microbes interact with plant roots in their quest for essential nutrients in the Amazon rainforest and how this could feed back into the global carbon cycle.

Tell us about a normal day in the life of a postdoc.

Lucia: One particular thing I like is that I have the opportunity to work in many different environments and ecosystems and that my tasks can be really diverse and not purely office-based. Every now and then I still can get my hands dirty, dig in soil and collect root and soil samples outdoors and visit field sites. On a typical day, however, I switch between the office, checking data, having meetings, working on manuscripts and the laboratory, to either run different chemical analyses on soil samples or to monitor some analytical devices.

How will society benefit from your research?

Lucia: The response of tropical rainforests to increasing atmospheric CO2 and also to other global change drivers is highly uncertain and our understanding of potential scenarios is based on comparably few observations and experimental manipulations. To project into the future, ecosystem models were developed (mostly based on knowledge from temperate forest systems), but more and more evidence shows that many are likely not accurately capturing the dynamics and feedbacks in tropical forests. One of the largest ‘unknowns’ concerns what happens below the surface – in particular at the interface of roots and soil where microbes and plants compete for scarce nutrients. Here my project comes into play. I want to get a better understanding of the processes that happen at this interface, to learn more about the applied mechanisms and consequences of these interactions of both, plants and microbes, and to work together with ecosystem modelers, to improve future projections – to finally be able to take more targeted actions as a society.

#researchgonewrong: Share a funny/surprising or unexpected anecdote with us from your academic career so far:

Lucia: In the first weeks of my post doc at INPA in Manaus in Brazil we started to go regularly to our field site in the forest to visit our experimental plots. All was super new and exciting – all the trees and all the plants and the roots and all the smells! So wonderful! But some good advice (‘yay’ to learning by doing): Never just touch a tree before having a look if it has spines or other ‘exciting surprises’. Also, I don’t recommend being the first to walk through the forest as you catch all the spider webs (and hopefully not spiders), but instead be the second or third person of the group. That way you’ll also have better chances to meet the snake the others before you have stirred up. Don’t ever dare to just put your backpack on the ground without double checking for ant roads, or at least check your bag for ants before you put it back on. Really, put on repellent. And yes, bringing an umbrella to field work doesn’t sound very adventurous, but it can be really helpful in torrential rain. Finally, listen out for howler monkeys since they make for good alarm systems in the rain forest.

What does REWIRE mean to you?

Lucia: The REWIRE fellowship allows me to conduct a research project that I have wanted to do for a really long time. It enables me to connect three ‘worlds’: the forest, the lab and to work together with modelers, which is a rather new experience for me. I also really appreciate the opportunity to get further training, support and networking possibilities.

Who is your personal heroine?

Lucia: I have to answer this very generally, as I do not have one heroine only. I have met many inspiring women in my family, amongst my friends, closer and more distant colleagues, who have each impressed me with how they approach and master professional or personal challenges.

The most important lesson learned so far that you want to share with other future (female) early post docs:

Lucia: I think this is very difficult to generalize, but one important thing is to trust and stand up for yourself, to do things your way and to make your own decisions. Another important point is to be persistent and maybe a bit resilient, try out different options and don’t be discouraged if proposals or manuscripts are rejected or if experiments fail. It can be super hard and disappointing, but try to stay open, often other unexpected options appear.

Quickfire Questions

Keyboard or Pen?

For scribbling down ideas and making lists I prefer pen and paper, but keyboard is much easier for day-to-day writing.

Vanilla or chocolate ice cream?


Early bird or night owl?

I think I am neither really, maybe rather a ‘late’ early bird…


Find more information on Lucia's research here.