Lachmuth joins red spruce team at Appalachian Laboratory

April 3, 2020
Dr. Susanne Lachmuth

Dr. Susanne Lachmuth recently joined the laboratory of Dr. Matt Fitzpatrick of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES) Appalachian Laboratory as an Assistant Research Scientist. Due to the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis, UMCES, like other University System of Maryland institutions, is operating under research restrictions that prohibit laboratory and field work requiring a physical presence at an UMCES campus or field site. Once normal research activities resume, Lachmuth, an evolutionary ecologist who combines genetics, experiments, and modeling to see how plant populations have changed over time, will focus her research on the adaptation of red spruce to changing climates.  

Fitzpatrick and his colleagues, Stephen Keller (University of Vermont), Dave Nelson, and Cat Stylinski (UMCES-Appalachian Laboratory), have been attempting to identify if there are genetic differences among red spruce that make some better suited to grow in certain regions. Currently, the range of the red spruce extends from eastern Quebec and Nova Scotia to western North Carolina, with a few small populations in western Maryland. Because red spruce prefers to grow in climates that experience cool, wet summers and cold winters, researchers speculate that it will need to shift its range to the north in the United States in order to survive expected changes in climate.

In addition to determining if there are certain genes that control what types of climate different red spruce trees can tolerate, Lachmuth will be working with project leads to understand how red spruce may have responded to past changes in climate by analyzing ancient fossil pollen to identify traits that may have enabled its survival. Just as gardeners select certain varieties to grow the most productive vegetables in their garden, knowing genetic differences and past adaptations in red spruce can help resource managers  choose the best varieties of red spruce to grow in their regions. 

“We are very lucky to have someone as talented as Dr. Lachmuth join our team. She brings a unique combination of skills that will be essential for the success of this large, complicated research project,” said Fitzpatrick.

Lachmuth became interested in the red spruce project after collaborating with Keller on past projects.   

“I’m particularly interested in how plants can sometimes rapidly adapt to changes in climate, so this project is a good fit for me,” said Lachmuth. “I also really like that the project is applied and that both the Central Appalachian Spruce Restoration Initiative and the Southern Appalachian Spruce Restoration Initiative are involved.”  

Prior to joining the Appalachian Laboratory, Lachmuth was at the University of Halle Wittenberg in Germany, where she worked as a researcher and lecturer in Plant Ecology. She first became interested in evolutionary ecology and genomics, the study of genes and their inter-relationships, during work on her master’s thesis. 

Susanne Lachmuth holds a Ph.D. in Plant Ecology and an M.S. in Ecology and Nature Conservation from the University of Potsdam and a B.S. in Biology from the University of Technology Munich. 

To learn more about ongoing research in Dr. Matt Fitzpatrick’s lab at the Appalachian Laboratory visit his research website.