Like many crops around the world, wild blueberries face several threats from climate change, including rising temperatures. Rafa Tasnim of Dhaka, Bangladesh is trying to pinpoint new ways growers can protect one of Maine’s most iconic crops using resources from the state’s backyard.

Since joining the University of Maine, Tasnim in 2019, a Ph.D. candidate in ecology and environmental sciences, led the research that revealed this wild blueberry fields in mainland eastern Maine are warming up faster than the entire state, and that the fields otherwise experience warming, depending on their location, season and time of day, among other factors. Her work has received state and national media attention.

But these studies are just the beginning of what Tasnim hopes to accomplish while at UMaine. Another recent study Tasnim’s co-author found that wild blueberries are more sensitive to dry conditions over long periods of time, implying that proper soil moisture management is more important than previously thought. Tasnim is evaluating materials that can improve soil water retention to protect plants during droughts in blueberry fields, especially those previously considered waste, such as compost and biochar, to help create more sustainable food systems. She also evaluated soil amendments, foliar fertilizers — those applied directly to leaves — and nanocellulose.

“I try to study the material available here,” she says. “My idea is to use all the recyclable waste we have around so we don’t put more pressure on landfills.”

Tasnim conducts her research in the lab of YongJiang Zhang, her advisor and associate professor of applied plant physiology, and at UMaine’s Blueberry Hill Farm in Jonesboro. The equipment she uses includes remote sensing tools and ArcGIS software, a portable leaf photosynthesis measurement system, a leaf chlorophyll meter, a leaf area meter, a soil moisture meter, real-time soil water stress monitoring sensors, and a pressure chamber that can measure plant water stress and other plants. attributes.

Ecology and environmental sciences were not always Tasnim’s field of study. She began her academic career in civil engineering, earning a bachelor’s degree from the Military Institute of Science and Technology (MIST) in her hometown and a master’s degree from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), specializing in geographic environment. engineering.

Her passion for protecting food systems from a warming planet was ignited when she worked on a slope stability project during her graduate studies in Hong Kong. In particular, she studied the effects of increased carbon dioxide on vegetation that grows along slopes, which helps stabilize them by removing excess moisture through transpiration. Tasnim found that rising carbon dioxide levels reduce the transpiration of these plants, which she says can lead to higher water pressure on those slopes during rains, further reducing soil stability and increasing the risk of landslides.

Through her project, Tasnim says she realized she enjoyed studying plants and how greenhouse gases and climate affect plant-soil interactions more than traditional civil engineering research areas, and decided to switch gears and pursue a new field.

“That’s how things changed for me,” she says. “At that point in my master’s program, it really sparked and helped me understand what I really wanted.”

While studying at UMaine, Tasnimas supervised undergraduate students in their own research projects, taught courses, presented and evaluated in 2019 and 2021. at UMaine student symposia, presented her research at the 12th International Vaccinium Symposium last year and served as a technical reviewer. several magazines.

She has also won several scholarships, bursaries and other awards from the university and external organizations, all of which have fully funded her studies. This year, she received the College of Natural Sciences, Forestry and Agriculture PhD Graduate Excellence Award; Janet Waldron Postdoctoral Fellowship from Graduate School; and a BioME seed grant from the Maine Biosciences Association.

Tasnim was still looking for a Ph.D. programs when she moved to Maine with her husband, SK Belal Hossen, so he could pursue a PhD in geotechnical engineering at UMaine. She became interested in the university’s program offerings after seeing the research conducted in the town’s greenhouses. But meeting Zhang, learning about his research and experiencing the high-end tools in his lab made the deal, Tasnim says.

Zhang pointed out which courses would help her with her research and connected her with other experts, such as Lily Calderwood, UMaine Extension wild blueberry specialist and associate professor of horticulture, and Francis Drummond, professor emeritus of insect ecology and pest management.

“He’s the best,” Tasnim says of Zhang. “Without the guidance and direction of my advisor—he really showed me how to move forward with this kind of research—none of it would have been possible.

While Tasnim’s research has been significant and widely acclaimed, she says it means little unless growers apply her findings to their own management strategies. That’s why she trusts and greatly admires the professionals at UMaine Extension who make her and other research more accessible to producers and the general public.

UMaine Extension experts like Calderwood facilitate access to the complex academic research conducted at the university by creating annual reports that summarize researchers’ findings and holding conferences and field days where growers can literally meet and discuss research findings with UMaine faculty and researchers. Tasnim has helped Calderwood and others prepare reports for blueberry growers since joining UMaine in 2019.

“I feel good that my publications are not just some articles that are published and cited. They really reach the real audience: growers from Maine and potentially growers from other states as well as other regions,” Tasnim says. “If (my work) doesn’t make a difference to anyone, it doesn’t matter how many publications I have or how many citations I have.”

Tasnim plans to graduate from UMaine in 2023. in autumn After receiving her PhD, she hopes to continue helping growers, conducting soil and plant research in a changing climate, and supporting more sustainable food systems as a faculty researcher, federal employee. agency or research and development.

“Whether you believe it or not, climate change is happening. There is a food shortage. Agricultural plant systems are devastated in different regions of the world,” says Tasnimas. “I really want my research to have a real-world impact, even if it’s a small part, in terms of crop systems and food insecurity.

Contact: Marcus Wolf, 207.581.3721; marcus.wolf@maine.edu