Wild blueberry fields in Down East Maine are warming faster than the state as a whole, according to a new University of Maine study on the effects of climate change on the barrens over the past 40 years.

The difference in rising temperature rates suggests the need to develop specific wild blueberry management strategies, such as irrigation and fertilizer use, to mitigate the effects of climate change on Down East fields rather than using tactics devised from statewide climate patterns, according to researchers.

The findings also revealed that rising temperatures at Down East wild blueberry fields fueled increased potential water loss over 40 years, the continuation of which could threaten the water supply for crops and the low-water holding capacity of the soil. Warming and increased potential for water loss could hurt wild blueberry health and yield, according to researchers.

Most of the wild blueberry fields in Maine reside in the Coastal Climate zone, which has been experiencing faster warming than the Interior and Northern climate zones.

The study also revealed differences in climate across the Down East fields themselves. The fields located closest to the coast had been warming the fastest and experiencing the lowest maximum and average temperatures and highest minimum temperatures.

Researchers discovered no changes in precipitation over the 40 growing seasons across the Down East wild blueberry fields or in the state overall.

The threats posed by climate change suggest the need for wild blueberry growers to consider mitigation efforts and irrigation and soil amendment techniques in their plans, according to researchers. The creation of predictive crop production models that factor in the temperature and evapotranspiration thresholds explored in the study would also help growers manage their crops as the climate changes.

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