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Updated: June 20, 2023

UMaine granted $650K to study how climate change affects wild blueberries

person outside in cap and yellow tank top Courtesy / University of Maine Rachel Schattman, assistant professor of sustainable agriculture, is leading a study of climate change impacts on Maine’s wild blueberry fields.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture awarded $650,000 to a University of Maine project investigating the effect of climate change on wild blueberry ecosystems and economics. 

Wild blueberry fields not only provide an important crop; they also support ecosystems by providing water regulation, nutrient cycling, carbon sequestration, pollination and food for wildlife. 

Climate change is altering wild blueberry agro-ecosystems, but the exact effects are unclear.

A study at the university’s School of Food and Agriculture will investigate how probable future climate scenarios will impact the wild blueberry ecosystem.

The study, led by Rachel Schattman, an assistant professor of sustainable agriculture, will conduct climate manipulation experiments at Wyman's Wild Blueberry Research and Innovation Center in Old Town. Researchers will test temperature and precipitation to see how they impact soil-water dynamics, crop health, the relationship to root fungi, pollinators and disease.

Results of the experiments will inform a new model designed 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 focus groups with growers to identify 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,” said Schattman. “It’s a project grounded by the needs of wild blueberry growers and their communities.”

The researchers expect to deliver actionable recommendations to the wild blueberry industry with climate-smart agricultural management strategies, particularly in socioeconomically challenged rural communities. 

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.

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