The U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture has awarded $650,000 to a University of Maine project investigating the impacts of climate change on wild blueberry ecosystems and economics.
Wild blueberry fields provide important crops for the state of Maine. They also support ecosystems by providing water regulation, nutrient cycling, carbon sequestration, pollination and food for wildlife. Climate change is altering these wild blueberry agroecosystems, but the exact effects are unclear.
Rachel Schattman, assistant professor of sustainable agriculture at the School of Food and Agriculture, is the principal investigator of the study. The project will investigate how probable future climate scenarios will impact the ecosystem services provided by wild blueberry fields. The researchers, including graduate and undergraduate students, will conduct climate manipulation experiments at the Wyman’s Wild Blueberry Research and Innovation Center in Old Town. They will test temperature and precipitation to see how it impacts soil-water dynamics, crop health, the relationship to root fungi, pollinators and disease.
The results of these experiments will be used to validate a new model to project possible future outcomes based on changing climate scenarios. Maps produced through the modeling will be shared with wild blueberry growers and processors. The researchers will also hold grower focus groups to identify perceptions of production and financial risks, as well as the benefit of climate risk mitigation strategies like supplemental irrigation.
“Our approach to this work is transdisciplinary in nature, meaning that we are pulling from the expertise and experience of our diverse team to answer big questions that no single discipline could answer on its own. It’s a project grounded by the needs of wild blueberry growers and their communities,” Schattman says, whose lab is part of the Maine Agricultural and Forest Experiment Station.
The interdisciplinary team of researchers will deliver actionable recommendations to the wild blueberry industry with climate smart agricultural management strategies, particularly in socioeconomically challenged rural communities.
Additional UMaine researchers on the project include YongJiang Zhang, assistant professor of plant physiology; Lily Calderwood, assistant professor of horticulture and Extension wild blueberry specialist; Jonathan Malacarne, assistant professor of economics; Brian McGill, professor of biological science; Phil Fanning, assistant professor of agricultural entomology; Seanna Annis, associate professor of mycology; Sean Birkel, Maine state climatologist and assistant professor; and Stephanie Miller, postdoctoral research assistant. Bruce Hall, director of agroecology at Jasper Wyman & Son, is also a collaborator.
The award started May 1 and was officially announced May 31.