Back to top

Research Projects

Agriculture

Department of Project: Stockbridge School of Agriculture

This project seeks to develop a permanent trap cropping system involving grafting selected perimeter-row trees with six pest-attractive apple cultivars. In 2018, over 100 trees were grafted with 6 cultivars each at 11 orchards in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine. Those cultivars were selected based on grower input and published information. Apple cultivars were compared by measuring their attractiveness to plum curculio, a key economic pest. PC injury, ovipositional scars, were recorded to determine whether particular apple cultivars are more susceptible to PC than others based on fruit injury levels.

Department of Project: Stockbridge School of Agriculture

Deficiencies of mineral elements in diets of humans are on the rise worldwide, even in the United States. These deficiencies limit the physical, intellectual, and mental health activities of the affected people. Poor or deterioration of soil fertility and the concomitant decline in agricultural productivity are major concerns in the World. Organic production of vegetables and fruits is growing, and it is important to assess if organic fertilization will sustain the quantity and nutritional values of foods grown from plants equally to the current practices of conventional farming. A current project in the Massachusetts Experiment Station studied organic and conventional fertilization of vegetable crops in relation to productivity and elemental nutrient composition for human nutrition. Biochar is charcoal produced from pyrolyzed biomass. Research suggests that biochar is a good amendment to enhance physical, chemical, and other agronomic qualities of soils. Amendments with biochar are reported to increase storage of carbon in soil, to increase fertility of soils, and to increase productivity and elemental nutrient composition of crops. The production of biochar from crop and other vegetative residues may be a strategy for management of organic waste. This project will investigate the benefits that might be obtained by use of biochar in enhancing yields and nutritional quality of vegetable crops. A review of literature has shown that additions of biochar to soils or growth media may improve plant nutrition through enhanced acquisition of nutrients by crops grown in biochar-amended media. Results have been variable and need some verification with further research. Biochar applications may replace some of the needs for regular fertilization of crops. Use of biochar has imparted tolerance of crops to saline and metals-contaminated soils. Research that needs further study was noted to be investigations of the use of biochar with organic fertilizers, especially ones of origins from sparingly soluble minerals, such as rock phosphate and rock dusts. This investigation is needed to determine if use of biochar with organic fertilizers or with difficultly soluble fertilizers will improve their efficacy. The enhancement of production with biochar of high-quality seedlings used as transplants has received limited attention and is worthy of further investigation to establish crops in the field or greenhouse. This proposed project will address use of biochar in the establishment of seedlings and in improving the efficacy of organic and chemical fertilizers.

Department of Project: Stockbridge School of Agriculture

Better knowledge of how to beneficially use residuals and reclaimed water is essential for environmental protection, soil quality, crop yield, food safety and human health. From this project, we will generate new and useful information on beneficial use residuals and reclaimed water. We will examine the fate, processes and bioavailability of various contaminants (including antibiotics, nanoparticles, nanoplastics) in soils. Analytical methods for nanoparticles and microplastics will be developed, and these methods are expected to be used widely by students, scientists and professionals. In addition, we will modify biochars to make functional biochars to be used in soil improvement and remediation. Furthermore, we will provide the fundamental and useful data for developing nano-enabled technology for sustainable agricultural production.

 

Department of Project: UMass Extension

This project investigates new sustainable markets for New England seafood. Climate change challenges the socio-economic and environmental sustainability of New England's seafood industry. A warming Gulf of Maine compounds the complex puzzle of ecosystems, fish population dynamics, and catch limits for specific fisheries. Cascading effects on fishermen, seafood processors, markets, and restaurants provide a network of challenges that are difficult to disentangle. This multifaceted challenge highlights the need for collaborative, cross-disciplinary research to build sustainable new markets for seafood. This proposal brings together a team with diverse expertise in ecology, climate change adaptation, economics, stakeholder engagement and product development. We aim to support the fishing industry by investigating consumers’ seafood choices, sustainable fishing practices, and seafood products that contain lesser known yet abundant species.   

The work will obtain new data to support ongoing pilot-work and support future proposals. Pilot data include:

  1. Fisherman’s perspectives on local and underutilized fish species and preservation methods,
  2. Consumer acceptability of new artisanal preserved fish products. Seed grant funds will be used to execute semi-structured interviews with New England fisherman, an online consumer survey, and a consumer sensory experiment. These funds will support the collaborative relationship between team members, building an interdisciplinary working group to pursue larger research funds.

Department of Project: Veterinary & Animal Sciences Dept.

1-The issue under investigation in this proposal is important because reproductive performance in beef and dairy cattle is often suboptimal resulting in increased intervals to conception and/or rebreeding failures that collectively reduce farm revenues due to decreased milk production or calf production efficiencies. Therefore, approaches that facilitate conception and increase conception rates will benefit the farmer and the economy in general.

2-The Umass research groups in this grant, Drs. Fissore and Visconti will be focused on two of the three Objectives,

Objective 1: Identify Mechanisms that Regulate Ovarian Function and Oocyte Quality during the Estrous Cycle.

Objective 2: Determine Factors Associated with Fertilization, Embryo Development, and Conceptus-Endometrial Interactions that Dictate Pregnancy Success.

3-Colleagues working in fertilization, embryo development, and fertility in mammalian species including humans, post-docs and graduate students, technicians, undergraduate students, embryologists, and producers.  

4-Oocyte quality is of one the parameters affected in high milk-yield cows. Therefore, examining how specific molecules and mechanisms might be downregulated or inactivated in those animals will improve the quality of the oocytes and their developmental potential such that a higher proportion of the fertilized oocytes and early embryos can progress to implantation and term-pregnancy. A second area is to prepare the sperm for fertilization akin to what happens in the female reproductive tracts. We plan to pre-treat bull sperm prior to adding it to oocytes or females. Recent studies from the Visconti lab show that changing the metabolic status of mouse sperm prior to fertilization can enhance post-fertilization outcomes, including embryo development and implantation success. We will extend these to the bovine sperm and embryos.

Department of Project: Microbiology Dept.

The world fisheries production has levelled off and most of the main fishing areas have reached their maximum potential. In contrast, the global human population is increasing; thus, the demand for aquatic food products also increase. Global aquaculture production attained 90.4 million tons in 2012, generating an incomes US$ 144.4 billion, and the production of food fish was 66.6 million tons. Epitheliocystis is a serious skin and gill disease in fish, believed to be caused by pathogenic intracellular bacteria. The disease has been reported in at least 90 species of marine and freshwater fish in both the southern and northern hemisphere. It affects a number of commercially important aquaculture species, including salmon, kingfish, trout and bream. Infection in these fish species is characterized by the development of cysts, typically in the gill epithelia, promoting the fusion of gill lamellae. This condition is usually benign; however, sometimes it can be associated with a high mortality, particularly in cultured fish. Infections can lead to respiratory distress and death, particularly in cultured and juvenile fish. While fish mortality data attributed to epitheliocystis is sparse, a remarkably broad range of 4%-100% observed mortality rates has been reported. Even with the recent molecular advances in identifying the pathogens, the reservoirs and modes of transmission of the etiologic agent(s) of this disease remain largely unknown. Bacteria belonging to the order Chlamydiales are an extremely important and diverse group of pathogens of vertebrates, which include respiratory diseases of fishes. Chlamydial infections of fish are emerging as an important cause of epitheliocystis in new and established aquaculture industries [6, 8]. However, empirical data and direct evidence relating to the etiology, treatments and epidemiology remain limited, highlighting the need for more work to better characterize this disease across the different hosts and locales affected.  We hypothesize that Chlamydia-like organisms are an important etiologic agent of epitheliocystis. We believe that a better understanding of disease transmission, mechanism of disease process and host range will provide a basis for preventing this emerging disease in aquaculture. Upon successful completion of this project, we will (1) have a better understanding of the etiologic agent(s) of epitheliocystis; (2) have an understanding of how the disease is transmitted and possible reservoirs in the aquaculture setting for common fish species; (3) determine the treatment regimen most effective at preventing and eliminating epitheliocystis in commercial fisheries settings and (4) pilot an effective screening/diagnostic test for early detection and confirmation of epitheliocystis.

Department of Project: Biology Dept.

Water is an increasingly scarce resource for agriculture thus engineering plants that use water efficiently is a primary goal for scientists. A recent approach in achieving water-efficient crops is to breed or engineer plants that can rapidly open and close their stomata in changing environments (Lawson and Blatt 2014, Raven 2014). During the day, plants may become shaded or enjoy a sudden but transient increase in sunlight as sun angles change (or are reflected) or as clouds and/or other obstacles block the sun. Plants that are shaded cannot photosynthesize; if the stomata are open in the shade, water is being lost while no carbon assimilation is taking place. Reciprocally, a transient increase in sunlight may warrant rapid stomatal opening, so extra energy can be assimilated into carbon. This is apt to happen many times a day, on different regions of the plant. Therefore, stomata that open quickly during high light or close quickly during low light will assimilate more carbon while losing less water.
Interestingly, nature has already engineered rapid stomata. Within the plant family, grass stomata have a unique morphology. In grasses, guard cells are dumbbell-shaped rather than the more common kidney-shape. The pair of guard cells are laterally flanked by a pair of subsidiary cells, or helper cell, which are also uniquely shaped (Figure 1C; Gray et al., 2020). Grass stomata open and close much faster than stomata from a variety of other species (Johnsson et al. 1976, Grantz and Assmann 1991, Franks and Farquhar 2007). It is thought that both the shape of the guard cells, and the presence of the subsidiary cells contribute to this rapid opening and closing (Franks and Farquhar 2007; Gray et al., 2020; Raissig et al., 2017), however since the mechanism of rapid stomatal opening and closing in grasses is not well understood, this is yet unproven. Maize (corn) plants are members of the grass family. Maize has many features that make it amenable to study include: well-established genetics including characterized "diversity panels" of inbred lines, fully sequenced genomes from multiple inbred lines and reverse genetic collections; ability to make transgenic plants; and large cells amenable to microscopy. Therefore, experiments in maize are well poised to investigate grass stomatal formation and function. While the unique shape of
grass guard cells likely contributes to their function, this proposal will focus on subsidiary cells. Specifically, we will determine the genes required to form subsidiary cells and genes unique in mature functioning subsidiary cells.

Department of Project: Microbiology Dept.

We designed full-size field trials to test the effectiveness of sorghum-maize intercropping at the UMass Crop and Animal Research and Education Farm in South Deerfield, MA. Plots of sorghum monocrop and maize monocrop served as controls with two intercropping systems, alternating row and mixed seeding intercropping. All four planting treatments were coupled with DMPP application to compare the biological inhibition of sorghum to an artificial inhibitor. Nitrogen and potassium fertilizers were applied in a manner similar to local practices, with DMPP application occurring concurrently. Plants were grown throughout the summer and harvested in early October for the 2021 and 2022 growing seasons to represent a typical corn system in Massachusetts.

The methodology of this work relies primarily on the capture and analysis of N2O gas leaving the soil, which represents a loss of nitrogen from the system as well as a problematic source of greenhouse gas emissions. To capture this gas flux, we implemented static chambers placed over the soil for a period of 30 minutes and sampled gas from the chamber every 15 minutes. Gas samples were loaded into pre-evacuated glass vials and analyzed through gas chromatography. To ascertain the temporal variability of N2O flux, these measurements were carried out throughout the New England summer every 2 or 3 days. This sampling scheme is more intensive than those typically employed in the literature, with many studies measuring gas flux on a weekly basis or longer gaps. The high frequency of sampling events allowed us to better account for stochastic variables in the system such as soil moisture and temperature fluctuations as they changed throughout the season.

In addition to gas flux, we collected data on soil temperature and moisture, as well as detailed atmospheric data from a nearby weather station at the research farm. At the end of the growing season, we collected above ground biomass from representative areas of each plot to measure bulk yield for silage production, the intended production outcome for this experiment.

To further understand the underlying mechanisms of the reduction in N2O flux we periodically and destructively took bulk soil and root samples for microbial community analysis. In this analysis we compared the abundance of microbial communities responsible for nitrogen transformations in the soil, mainly ammonia-oxidizing bacteria and archaea as well as denitrifying bacteria. We will also be coupling these comparisons to more broad observations of the microbial community structure at high resolution to get insights into how the wider microbial community responds to N2O reduction treatments and intercropping systems.

The need to feed the ever-growing human population while decreasing greenhouse gas emissions from large-scale agriculture remains a global problem of paramount importance. One major source of these emissions is through nitrous oxide (N2O) production, a greenhouse gas with a warming potential nearly 300 times that of CO2. This potent greenhouse gas is formed through the action of soil microbes when they compete for artificial nitrogen fertilizer. While there are synthetic inhibitors that reduce N2O emissions, there can be many off-target effects. A promising alternative to these inhibitors is leveraging the natural ability of some plants to antagonize the microbial production of N2O, termed Biological Nitrification Inhibition (BNI). This ongoing research utilizes the BNI capacity of Sorghum bicolor, a staple grain crop in Africa and Southern Asia intercropped with corn (Zea mays). Plants were grown as monocrops or intercrops with alternating row and mixed seeding at the UMass Crop and Animal Research and Education Farm in South Deerfield, MA. These cropping treatments were repeated with an artificial nitrification inhibitor, DMPP, for comparison. Throughout the growth season, soil gas flux samples were collected via chambers covering the soil and analyzed through gas chromatography. Measured N2O concentrations over time were then converted to overall flux (production and consumption) to determine the reduction in N2O emissions. In addition to gas measurements, soil and roots were destructively sampled periodically throughout the growth season. Community analysis of the bulk soil and rhizosphere will reveal the microbial community’s response to the different cropping systems or the synthetic inhibitor treatment at high levels of resolution. At the end of the field season, plants were harvested to determine overall yield for all treatment groups. This experimental design has been repeated for a second year to account for seasonal variations in weather patterns. Throughout both years of the field trial, we found nearly 20% fewer N20 emissions in the sorghum monocrop plots as well as with mixed seed intercropping with the addition of DMPP, compared to the corn monocrop control. Total plant biomass production was not influenced by either treatment variation.

        The core hypothesis of this work is that the BNI capacity of sorghum will result in more nitrogen fertilizer available for both corn and sorghum when planted in close proximity, as well as reduced N2O emissions. The inhibitory chemicals secreted from the sorghum roots will affect the root zone of corn when planted in a way that both root systems overlap. This effect will lead to more plant-available nitrogen, lower N2O emissions, and higher silage yields for both corn and sorghum in intercropped systems. We expect this effect to be most pronounced in the mixed seeding plots as those plants are grown in the closest proximity. This work will determine the efficacy of intercropping corn, a plant with heavy nitrogen fertilizer needs with sorghum, a plant which has evolved ways to better compete with soil microbes for the available nitrogen applied as fertilizer, compared to the commercial inhibitor DMPP. To better understand the role of soil biological processes in controlling plant available nitrogen, a subsequent, complimentary experiment will be carried out this year to uncover the mechanism of action of the sorghum inhibition. These experiments together investigate a promising alternative to the current synthetic inhibitors in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in large-scale agriculture, while simultaneously reducing the amounts of artificial nitrogen fertilizer required to grow corn in today’s agriculture. Both resulting effects, the increased nitrogen fertilizer availability and reduced N2O production, will directly support the chosen objective, and widen our understanding of soil health and resilience. Resilience of this agricultural system is further supported by the documented drought resistance of sorghum, which will be needed with the expected longer drought periods in the currently changing climate. These changes will directly affect farmers who produce crops for silage.

Department of Project: Stockbridge School of Agriculture

Non-point source pollution including excess nutrients, organic particles, fecal coliform bacteria, and additional pathogens is considered high risk at many animal operations, especially equine facilities. A common issue in these animal facilities is overgrazing which is the main cause of mud, resulting in serious threats to the environment as well as to animals and humans.  In addition, most equine facilities are regularly faced with a major challenge related to the large amount of manure produced by animals at the facility. Some of the challenges related to manure include 1) lack of manure storage 2) close proximity of manure pile(s) to nearby water bodies 3) animals' direct access to streams and other bodies of water, 4) undesirable characteristics of horse manure due to exceptionally high C:N ratio which makes the waste unusable for agriculture uses. In Massachusetts, there are estimated to be over 26,000 domesticated horses within the state. There are roughly 50,000 acres of land being used in MA for equine operations, therefore, there are about two horses for every acre of dedicated land- which is one fourth of the current recommended practice. It is estimated on average one 1,000 lb. horse will produce approximately 9 tons of manure. When including bedding, stall waste could be as much as 12 tons per horse per year. Managing this waste properly is a growing challenge for equine facilities, especially at places where land availability is limited, and the horses are kept in small acreage and stalls. Runoff from the stables to high traffic areas, manure piles, and unmanaged and overgrazed pastures are the main contributing factors to environmental degradation. Many horse owners do not have enough resources and background to make significant changes in their current practices including pasture, mud, and nutrient management. This provides opportunity for conducting research on various aspects of pasture management, manure management and provides information to remediate the negative impacts of equines on the environment.

This applied research project aims at evaluating trap cropping in association with the brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB) pheromone and insecticide-treated netting as a potential IPM tool to manage this invasive pest, particularly near crop harvest. In Massachusetts and other New England states, BMSB is affecting the fruit industry. Fruit growers face tough choices about protecting crops from BMSB near harvest, when pest populations are higher. Broad-spectrum insecticides are effective but also kill beneficial insects and some materials cannot be applied near harvest. Our main research goal is to pull stink bugs to the trap crop areas where they can be killed, away from the cash crop. In year 1, we will quantify BMSB response to sunflower and buckwheat combinations either, alone or in association with the BMSB pheromone. In year 2, we will select the most effective treatment and will assess the effectiveness of this approach at managing BMSB in commercial orchards.

 

 

Department of Project: UMass Cranberry Station

Cranberry production has a long history in Massachusetts (MA) that adds important economic and aesthetic value to the region.  About 30% of US acreage and the two largest cranberry handler companies are located in Massachusetts. Threats to the sustainability of cranberry production in MA and elsewhere in the US come from many sources: consumer demands for sustainable but inexpensive products, commodity pricing in an industry that is currently over-supplied with juice concentrate, changes to industry (handler) fruit quality standards, rising costs for energy and pest management products, climate change, and changing standards in pesticide use to accommodate global marketing. 

The majority of cranberry acreage in MA is still under old cultivars with low productivity and poor disease resistance and MA does not have a breeding program for new cultivars. Growers in MA are interested in bringing in new hybrid cultivars from breeding programs in New Jersey and Wisconsin. However, without proper cultivar evaluation under MA growing conditions, growers are hesitant to do so because of the significant financial risk.  This project will evaluate new hybrid cultivars under MA growing conditions and provide growers with reliable data to use in decision making when considering bog renovation.

 

Department of Project: UMass Cranberry Station

We will collaborate with various companies that are developing OMRI approved products (Coppers, Beneficial Microbes/Biocontrol agents and systemic resistance inducers) and identify compounds with proven efficacy in other cropping systems. Identified compounds will be integrated with registered Group 3 & 11 fungicides and will be evaluated for their efficacy in managing cranberry fruit rot and enhancing fruit quality (fruit color as evaluated by total anthocyanin content, fruit firmness and fruit size as evaluated by fruit weight). The proposed novel treatments will be evaluated in comparison with traditional grower standards (all chemicals) and non-sprayed controls. The study will be conducted on State bog at UMass Cranberry Station, East Wareham. All the treatments will be replicated five times in 4 x 4 ft (1.2 x 1.2 m) plots. All the local recommended fertilization, irrigation and pest management practices will be followed. Fungicides/novel compounds in each treatment will be applied at designated phenological stages using a CO2 powered backpack sprayer. In late September, from each replicated plot, all fruit from within an arbitrarily selected 1 foot-square area will be harvested by hand. Yield data will be obtained by converting the weight of the berries from 1 foot-square area to barrels/acre. Berries will be evaluated for fruit rot incidence (number of rotten berries/total number of berries x 100). An additional 500-gram subsample from each replicated plot will be used for fruit size and fruit color evaluation. Fruit firmness will be evaluated for samples of 50 healthy berries from each plot.

Department of Project: Stockbridge School of Agriculture

In Massachusetts, several invasive insect species are either already affecting or pose a serious threat to the specialty crop industry. Stakeholders have voiced the need to address the most destructive invasive insects threatening their crops. In recent years, there has been interest in reduced-risk materials with insecticidal properties for the invasive pest spotted wing Drosophila (SWD), a vinegar fly that attacks berries and other soft-skinned fruits such as peach and cherry. Of particular interest are low-cost materials that could be used as attractants in traps or as insecticidal food-based baits, as opposed to broad-spectrum insecticides applied to the foliage against some pests. In this project, we will determine whether materials that are commonly available in households can be used to attract adult SWD to traps. Efforts will be made to develop an inexpensive insecticidal bait. The response of female codling moth and Oriental fruit moth, two important pests of apple, pear, and related crops, to lures that are based on plant material will be quantified under laboratory and field conditions. Our ultimate goal is to develop a food bait for SWD that is inexpensive and effective. This project also seeks to improve the effectiveness of monitoring systems for codling moth and Oriental fruit moth. If successful, results may lead to the development of more effective monitoring systems for these two moth pest species.

Department of Project: Biology Dept.

Pollination is critical for yield of many crops, but many pollinator species are in decline due to a variety of stressors including pathogens, pesticides, and insufficient food resources. Our work will ask how flowering plants and land use around farms affects the number of bee individuals and species at farms, and how effective bees are at pollinating sunflower crops. We will also determine how diet and floral resources affect bee health and ability to resist disease. Finally, many crops have seeds that are treated with pesticides to improve growth, but these pesticides can be incorporated into pollen and affect bees. We will ask how the amount of water a plant receives affects the concentration of pesticides in pollen, and the consequences for bees. Taken together, this work represents a comprehensive approach to understand some of the factors involved in pollinator decline.

Department of Project: Biology Dept.

This proposal describes a next-generation sequencing (NGS)-based approach to identify genes that control unisexual flower development in Zea mays (maize). Maize develops separate male flowers in the tassel and female flowers in the ear (Klein etal., 2018). The development of unisexual flowers is important for hybrid crop production - separate tassel and ear flowers allow humans to very easily make controlled crosses (Phillips, 2010).  Many cereal crops related to maize, like rice and wheat, have unisexual flowers, hampering hybrid seed production (Kellogg, 2015). In addition, the same process that leads to the development of maize flowers in the tassel - carpel suppression - also occurs in half of all ear flowers, effectively halving the number of seeds a maize ear could produce (Cheng et al., 1983).  Thus, modifying the genes that control carpel suppression using CRISPR/Cas9 genome engineering could allow crop engineers to generate unisexual flowers in other grass crops, and to improve yield in maize (Gao, 2018).

Department of Project: Biology Dept.

Three obstacles that we address in this project are: (1) Even within a single crop species, not all plant genotypes respond the same way to PGP bacterial applications. This indicates the existence of a genetic basis to how plants respond to PGP bacteria that must be understood in order to successfully use PGP applications on different crop varieties. (2) PGP microbial applications are extremely susceptible to microenvironmental variation; thus, achieving sufficiently uniform conditions, to test the effectiveness of an application poses a challenge. (3) PGP effects are often likely mediated through impacts on plant roots, but belowground responses to PGP-bacteria have traditionally been difficult to assess.

            We have been developing the grass model species, Brachypodium distachyon, as an ideal plant system for screening and evaluation of PGP bacteria. As a species that is easily and rapidly grown in a laboratory setting and is closely related to wheat, rye, oats, barley, and several forage grasses, B. distachyon offers a screening system that is likely to ensure translation of findings to relevant crops. We have also developed a novel standardized growth system, termed “rhizotrons” to study the effect of PGP bacteria on above- and belowground plant phenotypes under high-throughput conditions. With these systems we have the following objectives:

Objective 1: Develop protocols and quantify the effects of a known PGP bacteria on belowground plant growth in a line of B. distachyon that allows for real time quantification of root architecture.

Objective 2: Assess the differential effect of this PGP bacteria on above-ground growth of several lines of B. distachyon that have been used.

Objective 3: Used a controlled cross of B. distachyon lines that differ in response to PGP application to identify genes controlling this response.

            Our target audience is basic plant researchers seeking to understand mechanisms of pant growth and those seeking to create more sustainable crops. Our activities will lead to the outcomes described above through creation of protocols to quantify root growth, identification of B. distachyon lines that respond in a differential manner to PGP bacteria application, identification of plant growth traits that are more and less likely to be impacted by PGP microbes, and identification of candidate loci for plant genotype x PGP microbe response in B. distachyon. This will benefit our target audiences by providing research tools and knowledge that can be leveed for further gene discovery and by helping accelerate the discovery of similar genes in energy, cereal, and forage crops and ensuring translation of our findings to agriculture.

Department of Project: Stockbridge School of Agriculture

Tree-fruit growers must adopt economically and environmentally sustainable orchard management strategies to remain competitive in regional, national, and international markets; to meet consumer demand for high quality fruit; to address the pressure to reduce chemical use; and to enhance production efficiency. The root system is a key orchard component that can impact these issues, and tree fruit growers address these issues by utilizing the genetic traits of rootstocks, onto which the fruiting varieties are grafted. Rootstocks can provide a range of tree vigor control and final tree size when matched to optimize local soil and climatic conditions, allowing for higher density plantings with smaller trees that are more efficient per unit of land area. Higher density plantings facilitate earlier production and greater cumulative yield potentials, but also must provide appropriate vigor for the site so that canopy shade and pruning do not become excessive. To be profitable, growers must establish high-density orchards with appropriate rootstocks grafted to cultivars that are in demand by consumers and have high market value. However, establishment costs for high-density orchards are 10 to 20 times more per land area than lower-density plantings, thus greatly increasing economic risk. Grafting to a rootstock inappropriate for the regional climate or orchard soil type can be economically disastrous. Potential economic returns from high-density orchards can far exceed that of low-density orchards, particularly during the first 10 years. Past NC-140 research successfully identified reliable size-controlling, early-bearing rootstocks for apple and cherry, and has led to the integration of their use in high-density production systems to reduce tree size, labor costs and significant tree and/or production losses from disease and environmental stresses. Size-controlling rootstocks for peaches, pears, apricots, and plums are now in their relatively early stages of development, concomitant with potentially major changes in tree training as they are integrated into more efficient and productive orchard systems.

Department of Project: Biology Dept.

Corn (Zea mays) is the most widely cultivated grain crop in the United States and is extensively consumed in the American diet. Because of corn's prominence as a staple grain throughout the world, the nutritional quality of corn has received substantial attention. The metal micronutrient content of corn, especially iron and zinc, is of considerable interest since breeding for improved micronutrient content and availability would have substantial impacts on human health. Unfortunately, maize has naturally low levels of iron in grain, making it impossible to breed maize lines that have adequate iron for human nutrition. In this project, we will leverage knowledge about iron signaling and iron movement to address the possibility of enhancing iron accumulation in maize kernels by manipulating gene expression artificially. Our long-term goal is to produce food crops with improved iron nutrition for human and animal consumption.

Department of Project: Stockbridge School of Agriculture

The project will employ established field and laboratory methods to measure litter decomposition, soil organic matter turnover, and nitrogen transformations. These methods could include isotope labeling and recovery, litter decomposition, quantifying soil organic matter, gross nitrification and nitrogen mineralization, potential net nitrification and net nitrogen mineralization, nitrous oxide production, carbon mineralization, and quantifying microbial biomass. These measurements are often collected from both field equipment and laboratory microcosms. The results are analyzed using a variety of tools. Generally, graphing tools are first used to examine trends in the data. The data will then be statistically analyzed using linear mixed models and, potentially, model selection. The statistical output is combined with graphic trends and site background information to interpret data and produce study outcomes. This study will incorporate formal education programs. The research project will be the basis from which to train a graduate student on methods in soil biogeochemistry and incorporation of applied research into graduate study. The field sites and methods will be incorporated into formal laboratory instruction for undergraduates. Involving undergraduates provides both inclusion in primary research and evidence of how research outcomes can be incorporated by farmers. 

Department of Project: Stockbridge School of Agriculture

We will use a combination of field work, greenhouse experiments, incubations, laboratory methods (including physiochemical, molecular, and spectroscopic analyses), advanced imaging, stable isotope tracing, multi-omics (DNA/RNA sequencing, metabolomics, proteomics), and computational approaches to characterize and measure soil organic matter and its dynamic interactions with the ever-changing soil environment and its inhabitants. In the near future, our work will focus on the fate of organic N inputs and their interactions with soil minerals. This mineral associated organic N pool (often referred to as MAOM-N) is a critical but overlooked component of the soil N cycle. As part of a collaborative, multi-institutional project, we will investigate the following questions:

How does the relative abundance and chemistry of MAOM control N availability?

How do MAOM-N pools and MAOM-N dynamics vary across different cropping systems and management practices?

How do roots mobilize MAOM-N?

How do these processes contribute to plant productivity, resource use efficiency, and soil C storage?

First, we will use spectroscopy (e.g., FTIR, NEXAFS), sequential extractions, elemental and chemical analyses (e.g., IRMS, TOC, TON, FTICRMS), and imaging (e.g., SEM, TEM, IR microscopy, STXM-NEXAFS) to characterize MAOM-N present in paired soil samples maintained under annual wheat (conventional tillage and fertilization) vs perennial grasslands (no tillage or fertilization). Our soil sampling sites represent a gradient of soil texture and climatic conditions. Next, we will conduct incubations and greenhouse experiments to investigate how this MAOM-N is formed, transformed, and mobilized by plants and microbes. We will use stable isotope tracing to distinguish the fate of different organic matter sources within the complex soil matrix.

Department of Project: Stockbridge School of Agriculture

A New England Food Vision is the outcome of a regional collaboration, led by the University of New Hampshire, that began in 2014 in response to climate change, local economics, and food security (Donahue et. al, 2014). The Vision identified the potential to increase local food production and enhance our agricultural sector economics. To increase our local animal production, the Vision identified the need to locally produce 64% of the feed that is concurrently required. The feasibility of this goal heavily depends on the utilization of marginal lands not suitable for row crop production to be managed as pasture and hay land. Fortunately, there is also an increasing movement among both consumers and farmers for grass-fed production in New England, as evidenced by the 2019 formation of the New England Grazing Network.

Regionally appropriate management techniques are necessary to support farmers shifting to increased pasture-based feed production systems. It is well understood that well-managed perennial grass systems have great potential to sequester carbon and protect water quality (Franzluebbers et al., 2012; Eyles et al, 2015; Oliveira et al., 2019). However, poorly managed systems can introduce environmental harm due to over grazing and non-point source pollutants. Moreover, nutrient management and grazing management must be fine-tuned in order to maximize production, long-term sustainability, and economic viability.

Our work seeks to reduce the reliance on synthetic nitrogen fertility in pastures to increase environmental sustainability and reduce the cost of production. We also seek to extend the grazing season so as to reduce the necessity to produce hay to feed animals during winter months, as hay production requires labor and fuel costs as well as fossil fuel emissions. This work hopes to increase the understanding of nitrogen cycling as influenced by the effect of forage composition on manure-N composition, which can in turn support farmers in nutrient planning. Finally, we seek to further investigate the effect of grazing height on the regrowth of common grass species and their physiology. Knowledge of the physiology over time is critical to careful management plans that support maximum production and can help predict responses to environmental stresses that accompany climate change.

Department of Project: Microbiology Dept.

The research outlined here is designed to clarify how microbial diversity influences soil carbon persistence and ecosystem function and how climate change reshapes these relationships. Our focus is on necromass, or new soil organic matter derived from dead microbial bodies as part of the microbial community turnover. 

First, we will use model soils (comprised of sand, clay, microbes and simple substrates) in combination wiht 18O-water to investigate how microbial community diversity impacts soil carbon stabilization and carbon use efficiency of necromass. We expect that the necromass derived from more diverse communities will be more difficult to decompose, resulting in lower carbon use efficiency.

Second, we will leverage an ongoing Harvard Forest Long-Term Soil Warming Experiment to ask how chronic warming affects the relationship between ecosystem multifunctionality and microbial diversity. This project will also explore how that relationship changes over season, the duration of long-term warming, and across soil horizons. We expect that the warmed plots would have higher ecosystem multifunctionality and microbial diversity, producing a stronger positive relationship between the two.

Finally, we will use metatranscriptomic data from the Harvard Forest Long-Term Soil Warming Experiment to examine how long-term warming impacts the relationship between functional diversity and ecosystem multifunctionality. Through this project, we will explore functional diversity as an alternative to taxonomic diversity when examining the relationship between diversity and ecosystem function. We predict that functional diversity will have a positive relationship with ecosystem multifunctionality, and that decomposition related genes will be the primary drivers of this relationship.

Fusarium oxysporum species complex (FOSC) can cause vascular wilt on over 100 cultivated plant species (Ma et al., 2013; Michielse & Rep, 2009; Pietro et al., 2003). Because of its significance, F. oxysporum is listed among the top 10 fungal pathogens by the journal “Molecular Plant Pathology” (Dean et al., 2012). In the New England region, wilt diseases caused by Fusarium oxysporum are common agricultural problems that affect the production of vegetables, including asparagus, tomatoes, eggplant production, ornamentals, and variety of flowers (Elmer & Marra, 2011;https://www.prevalentfungi.org/). The widespread resistance to existing fungicides and the persistence of the thick-walled fungal chlamydospores in the soil heightens the difficulty in controlling the diseases and emphasizes the importance of appropriate control measures.

Department of Project: Stockbridge School of Agriculture

Prior to the turn of the 21st century, most U.S. states produced few to no grapevine, primarily because of limitation in cold hardiness and disease and pest resistance of the Vitis vinifera, the European grapevine species that comprises most commercial cultivars grown in the U.S. in traditional production regions.  The recent introduction of new, interspecific hybrid cultivars that incorporate more of the world natural diversity of grapevine species and thus, more climate resilience and disease and pest resistances, has allowed the development of grape industries in regions previously considered unsuitable.  The major V. vinifera cultivars grown worldwide were selected over decades or even centuries for best suitability in European regions and were then spread to California's and other arid western U.S. states.  Therefore, in comparison to V. vinifera, the evaluation of the new hybrids for non-traditional regions needs more time.  Moreover, in face of climate change, continued evaluation of V. vinifera and hybrid cultivars is critical to maintaining the grapevine industries in both traditional and non-traditional grapevine growing regions.  Economically, grapevine cultivars evaluation is one of the most significant components of grapevine industry: “Planting a poorly-adapted cultivar in the wrong place is a costly mistake.”  As new grapevine regions experience continued growth, the subsequent economic impact that comes with it is dependent on improving quality and quantity of grapes and wines produced. Continued discovery, development, and evaluation of grapevine cultivars is critical for maintaining sustainability and growth within the whole grapevine industry sector.  To respond to the need created by climate change and the growth of the grapevine industry in non-traditional regions, new cultivar selections are produced by breeding programs.  Testing of new cultivars is typically limited to a few areas.  Coordinated, multi-state testing is needed to evaluate adaptation in a variety of environments.  With changing climate and increased weather variability, cultivar adaptation, including physiological hardiness and robustness to changes in insect and disease pressure will be an increasing issue.  This project leverages substantial investments made in breeding programs and helps evaluate genotype x environment interactions.

Department of Project: Veterinary & Animal Sciences Dept.

Sheep are valuable livestock species that have been raised for their production of meat, milk, fleece, and other by-products. More importantly, given their anatomic and physiologic similarities to humans, genetically modified sheep have become an important human disease model in pharmaceutical and biomedical research. Compared with somatic cell nuclear transfer and random transgenesis, CRISPR/Cas9-mediated genome editing is highly efficient and precise. However, due to the impaired developmental competence of embryos cultured in vitro, the overall success rate is still low when blastocyst embryos are transferred into the recipients. In this study, we propose to optimize the microenvironment of in vitro cultured sheep embryos by modulating the culture matrix stiffness, fluid flow, and embryo rolling, to improve the developmental competence of blastocysts, which stage allows for a much faster and less-painful non-surgical embryo transfer than the surgical procedure. Our proposed research, if successful, will innovatively streamline the production of genetically modified sheep and other large livestock animals, to increase both human and animal health and welfare.

Our research goal is to ensure successful fertilization, which depends on stepwise interactions between the pollen and the female reproductive organ pistil. Our long-term interest is on understanding how the pollen tube journey in the pistil can be completed successfully to enable fertilization. The objectives here focus specifically on the start of the pollination process when pollen lands on the stigma, the receptive surface of the pistil. Once deposited on the stigma, the pollen grains hydrate and germinate, each extruding a pollen tube to embark on a long journey to its target, the female gametophyte located inside an ovule and delivers two sperm cells for fertilization, producing a seed. Fertilization can be achieved only when the pollen grain and pollen tube successfully engage in interactions with various pistillate tissues and cells that they encounter. Reception or rejection of the pollen on the stigma determines whether the sperm-bearing pollen will be allowed entry, thus the critical first step towards fertilization. Recent research from our laboratory has produced important insights into how pollen-pistil interactions mediate these events. Our studies have focused on the roles of cell surface regulatory proteins. Pollen germination and tube growth occurs entirely in the extracellular matrix (cell wall) secreted by pistillate cells, until the pollen tube enters the ovule and penetrates one of the synergid cells to gain access to the female gametophyte. Pectin, a major cell wall polysaccharide, is important for cell wall integrity and pectic derivatives from its backbone, polygalacturonic acids, are known to play signaling roles for various biological processes. The pectic property of the pollen tube wall is known to be critical for its integrity. While often postulated to be important, support for how the pistillate environment contributes to pollen tube passage has remained elusive. Here we proposed experiments to explore how the pistillate pectic environment might participate in male-female communicative events and its impact on reproductive success.   We focus on examining the functional contribution from enzymes important in pectin metabolism, in particular hydrolytic enzymes the reduce the polymeric nature of pectin on pollen-pistil interactions prior to gamete fusion.

As an important group of crops, legumes are prized for their high protein content, which is thanks to their remarkable ability to make their own nitrogen nutrient through a symbiotic relationship with a particular group of bacteria. We still do not fully understand the legume genes that allow these plants, but not most others, to enter this nitrogen-fixing symbiosis. Evolution through millions of years has turned this relationship into a very elaborate process, requiring hundreds if not thousands of genes from both partners. To speed up the rate of scientific discovery, we developed a genetic method based on the CRISPR/Cas9 technology to examine genes suspected to be involved in this mutualistic interaction. This approach will allow us not only to study one gene at a time, but multiple genes at once if necessary. We will carry out the research on a small legume species easy to manipulate in the laboratory, but the findings will have important implications for important crops, such as soybeans, peas, and peanuts.

Massachusetts is on high alert for the potential invasion of the spotted lanternfly (SLF). Specialty crop producers are dealing with increased pressure from the brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB), an invasive pest that has become established and is already causing economic injury in hotspots throughout the state. Two University of Massachusetts Extension programs (the Landscape, Nursery, and Urban Forestry Program and the Fruit Program), the Stockbridge School of Agriculture, and the Department of Environmental Conservation are joining forces to monitor for SLF in MA, to conduct Extension/outreach on both invasive pests, and to conduct applied research aimed at (1) identifying attractive lures for SLF and (2) monitoring for the Samurai wasp, an egg parasitoid of the BMSB. This information is important given the potential implementation of biological control of BMSB in agricultural areas while potentially reducing urban and suburban home invasions of BMSB. 

Brucella spp. are Gram-negative bacteria that infect animals and humans. B. abortus, B. melitensis, and B. suis are major pathogens of cattle, goats and sheep, and swine, respectively. Brucella infections in these food animals have significant economic impacts in areas of the world where they are not controlled by effective eradication programs. In their main animal hosts, brucellosis causes spontaneous abortion or birth of weak offspring, reduced milk production and infertility. Transmission occurs by direct contact with infected blood, placentas, fetuses and consumption of raw animal products, especially milk and milk products (Nicoletti 1989). Understanding the physiology of these bacteria and how host infection is modulated is therefore important for control of these pathogens.

Bacteria manage changes to their environment, such as the stress of host infection, by altering the levels of RNA, protein and signaling molecules to cope with these changes. Proteases play central roles in bacterial physiology. They modulate the activity of cellular proteins and remove damaged proteins from cells. Because proteolysis is irreversible the catalytic function of cellular proteases must be tightly regulated. While the extent and capacity of proteolytic control in Brucella is unknown, modern proteomic strategies have now made it possible to capture this important facet of bacterial regulation.

In this proposal we aim to chart the dynamic proteome in Brucella abortus, identify the roles of specific regulators in controlling these dynamics, and share these results with the scientific community by making a searchable open-access databases. We believe that this atlas will provide a starting point for all those studying Brucella to either identify new candidates of interest or to validate regulatory mechanisms for targets under study. Given the economic and agriculture impact of brucellosis on animal hosts, we predict that this insight will spur understanding of how to manage Brucella infections and reduce the economic burden of this disease.

Department of Project: Biology Dept.

A scale insect pest has been outbreaking on cranberries in Massachusetts every year since 2012, and in 2022 it is the most damaging pest of Massachusetts cranberries, affecting a majority of commercial bogs. To manage it, we need to understand basic facts about its biology, but right now we don't even know what to call it: we don't know what species it is.  It looks like the species Diaspidiotus ancylus, Putnam scale, and that is what it has been called in the literature and in presentations to growers.  But taxonomists have long suspected that multiple distinct species may have been erroneously lumped together under the name Diaspidiotus ancylus, and we have recently corroborated this hypothesis using DNA evidence.

                The goals of this project are to figure out: how many species are in this group, which plants each species attacks, how each species is distributed geographically, how they can be told apart from each other, and what their scientific names ought to be.  The group has a complex history, originally having been described as 11 different species, before these were lumped together. To help assess which of those 11 species are valid, and whether additional, yet-unnamed species need to be recognized, we will collect members of this species group and their close relatives from many locations in Massachusetts and around the eastern and midwestern US, including 22 so-called "type" localities, in 13 states, from which these species and their closest relatives were originally described.  We will sequence DNA from 3 different genes and use this in conjunction with previously-collected DNA data and other information to assess where the species boundaries lie. 

                The direct target audience for our research results will be our fellow entomologists, especially those dealing with pests identified as Diaspidiotus ancylus that attack cranberries, blueberries, other orchard crops, and ornamentals.  This study will lay the groundwork for a revised classification of the group, and for published guides to the identification, host plant use, and distribution of the consituent species -- not least, we will finally have a valid and correct name for the cranberry pest, and a published means of telling it apart from the lookalike species with which it has long been confused.  This will result in more accurate information about the pest and its biology being conveyed to growers and informing pest management.

Department of Project: Veterinary & Animal Sciences Dept.

Animal health is of great importance, in agricultural, food security, general economic and public health terms. The diseases that our lab investigates (e.g. tuberculosis, anaplasmosis, Johne's disease, leptospirosis, and porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus (PRRSV)) cause billions of dollars in losses to U.S. agricultural producers. In addition, tuberculosis, anaplasmosis, leptospirosis and Johne's disease are zoonotic diseases, in which animals can serve as reservoirs and vectors of often fatal disease for humans. For example, Mycobacterium tuberculosis and Mycobacterium bovis, the bacteria that cause tuberculosis, infect one- third of the world's human population, and are responsible for 1.5 million human deaths worldwide per year. While Mycobacterium bovis infection of livestock and humans has been nearly eliminated in the U.S. by decades of culling infected animals and pasteurizing milk, importation of infected livestock and dairy products from Mexico and infected deer reservoirs have resulted in cattle and human infection and deaths in the U.S. The rise in consumer demand for "raw" unpasteurized milk also increases the danger of a tuberculosis outbreak caused by Mycobacterium bovis. History has shown that the best way to treat disease is to prevent it through vaccination, with the long-term goal of driving it into extinction. Smallpox and rinderpest virus are two examples of pathogens that are now extinct because of vaccination. This is especially true in agriculture, in which diseases may not be fatal to all animals, but severely impact producers because animals fail to reach market weight in a timely fashion, incur veterinary medical bills, and fail to deliver viable young. Chronically infected animals can infect the whole herd or flock. Thus, it is critical to develop effective vaccines to prevent animal pathogens from gaining a foothold. Most classic vaccines rely on activating a white blood cell called a "B cell", which produce antibody proteins that bind specifically to the pathogen and lead to its elimination. These B cells produce only one type of antibody per cell and display a memory response in that they act faster the second time they encounter the pathogen and are thus able to prevent infection. However, many pathogens are able to evade these antibody proteins through mutation because the antibodies are so exquisitely specific that with a change in one nucleotide in a pathogen's gene, the antibodies no longer work to prevent infection. For these pathogens, it has proven beneficial to design vaccines that recruit a second type of immune cell capable of a memory response, the T cell. There are two types of T cells: alpha beta T cells and gamma delta T cells. Much more is known about alpha beta than gamma delta T cells, but we do know that gamma delta T cell respond much more quickly than B cells or alpha beta T cells, that they can recognize pathogen molecules that the pathogens can't mutate because they are integral to pathogen survival, and that, unlike B cells, they make the potent protective chemical interferon-gamma.

Nutrition

Department of Project: Nutrition Dept.

Food insecurity has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed inequities in food insecurity and food access among diverse populations. Food access has decreased in part because of the additional restrictions on going out and gatherings. For example, purchasing shelf-stable foods to decrease shopping trips or closure of congregate meal sites.

Beyond COVID-19, it is important to better understand the unique challenges and coping strategies among diverse groups that influence food security and food access because adequate nutrition is critical to overall human health and well-being. Consumption of fruit and vegetables is a major contributor to adequate nutrition for all age groups. Older adults are at increased risk for inadequate nutrition due to unique barriers to obtaining fruits and vegetables. For example, inability to travel to grocery stores or other traditional food outlets can be particularly challenging for older adults who may have limited physical mobility and / or few transportation options, especially if they no longer drive. Social isolation is another characteristic that is related to lower fruit and vegetable intake and independently impacts health among this population. In both urban and rural areas, specific buyers including older adults (> 60 years of age) and lower income individuals and families may have limited access to fruits and vegetables. Producers such as small and medium scale farmers may be interested or engaged in viable markets that could help close the gap between fruit and vegetable need and access.

The study aims to gain a better understanding of how influencers of healthy eating (such as transportation constraints and social isolation) impact food insecurity and food access during economic shocks or a public health crisis (e.g., COVID-19 pandemic) and in the following years. Another aim of the study is to better understand and address programmatic implementation challenges that arise from operating during a pandemic compared to normal operating conditions and how changes may improve operations ongoing in the years following the initial economic shock or initiation of the pandemic.

The goals and objectives of this project are to better understand: 1) the barriers and facilitators of specific buyers to purchase fruits and vegetables; 2) proposed solutions by specific buyers for closing the gap between need and supply; 3) the perspective of producers on viable markets for closing the gap between need and supply; and 4) the impact of COVID19 on food security, food access, and food programs that aim to improve access to healthful foods and decrease food security.
The proposed study is in response to community partners in Massachusetts interested in examining Senior Food Box distribution, Farmers Markets Programs, and other distribution systems that assist older adults and diverse populations in obtaining fresh fruit and vegetables and, in turn, improve diet quality and contribute to achieving adequate nutrition. The proposed study examines questions about how to best serve the needs of older adults and diverse populations in terms of fruit and vegetable accessibility, affordability (costs), quality, and variety including meeting the requests of ethnically and racially diverse populations. The study also examines the perspectives of producers to meet needs and demands of buyers.

A better understanding of the perspectives of our target audiences, the producers and buyers, on demand and supply of fruits and vegetables, will benefit both audiences by improving the food system to increase fruit and vegetable availability, purchase, and ultimately consumption in an effort to improve adequate nutritional intake for individuals and families, and potentially increasing the health and well-being among diverse populations of individuals, families, and communities. A better understanding of the inequities in the food system and food access will provide insights on how to address them.

The proposed project will use surveys, focus groups, and key informant interviews to meet the goals and objectives of the project. These methods will facilitate gaining the perspectives of producers and buyers. Dissemination of findings among producers and buyers as well as academic and extension researchers and practitioners will be done through written materials (e.g., project reports, white papers, and academic journal articles) and presentations.

Department of Project: Nutrition Dept.

Obesity has become a major public health threat with substantial economic losses and medical costs in the U.S. and worldwide due primarily to its strong link with metabolic complications and diseases including inflammation, type 2 diabetes, and cancer. Thus, prevention and/or even delay of such conditions is of critical importance for improving public health. The USDA dietary guidelines for Americans strongly recommend increased consumption of fruits and vegetables that are rich in antioxidants and bioactive components to prevent or attenuate diet-related chronic diseases and to improve overall health. As person's diet is a key contributor to health and disease risk, agriculture has been a core sector of economic viability and food production systems with the increasing recognition of the interface between nutrition and agriculture. Epidemiological and clinical studies have repeatedly demonstrated many health benefits of food-based bioactive components by modifying the risk of disease, suggesting that bioactive molecules in our diet can be effective in preventing or delaying the disease process. Therefore, it is important to identify and characterize the novel bioactive molecules from food-grade plants and crops that may contain the principal components for enhancing human health and preventing diseases. Our long-term goal is to define the protective effects of bioactive food components in agricultural crops and develop effective dietary strategies designed to reduce obesity-linked health complications. The objective of the proposed study is to determine the extent to which cranberry bio-actives affect fat cell metabolism including lipid metabolism and thermogenesis, resulting in the contribution to suppressed adipocyte inflammation and dysfunction. The discovery of novel health effects of bioactive components will not only provide the scientific basis for dietary recommendations to increase public health, but also offer economic viability of crop farming and sustainable production to local farmers and growers. The outcome of this research will help achieve the national goal of agricultural and nutritional research to improve public health and prevent diet-related chronic diseases, thereby benefiting consumers and agricultural industry.

Department of Project: Veterinary & Animal Sciences Dept.

Human milk provides significant health benefits for infants. Beyond nutrients, breastmilk contains antibodies for immunity, growth factors associated with gut epithelial maturation, bacteria for establishment of the gut microbiome, and metabolites that modulate inflammation. These important elements of human milk support strong immune system development within the infant gut and better infant health. Unfortunately, many parents aiming to breastfeed will supplement or wean earlier than planned and frequently report perceived low milk supply as the reason. Increased mammary epithelium permeability (IMEP), as indicated by elevated milk sodium, is a physiologic condition that could have significant implications for milk secretion, composition and infant health. Lactation physiology studies have established that closed paracellular pathways, i.e., low permeability, are essential for the establishment and maintenance of adequate milk secretion. Human studies on permeability have focused on the period of secretory activation, and persistent mammary epithelium permeability at day 7 postpartum has been associated with perceived low milk supply. However, little is known about IMEP during established lactation. We recently reported that IMEP among US women is more common across lactation than previously recognized, and is associated with increased levels of inflammatory cytokines in milk. Furthermore, our preliminary data suggest that a healthy diet may help reduce IMEP. We propose to determine the prevalence IMEP among lactating women in the Connecticut River Valley and Hilltown regions. We also propose to determine the extent to which IMEP is associated with earlier than desired weaning and/or supplementation, reduced milk nutrient content, an inflammatory milk profile, and an inflammatory diet.

Commercial Horticulture

Department of Project: Stockbridge School of Agriculture

The managed landscape is a complex and unique system, with a wide variety of plant and insect species comprised on a relatively small area. The maintenance and management approaches vary depending on the owner, and each property is a unique ecosystem with the unique complex of insect pests.

Managing insect pests in this complex system inherently has many challenges, but recently is exacerbated by the limited availability of pest management tools. Because of the high aesthetic standard and almost zero tolerance to any plant damage, the main management strategy preferred by practitioners is a chemical control. Additionally, recent regulations limit or ban of some of the already scarce tools. Some active ingredients are losing efficacy due to pest resistance to insecticides while use of others becomes restricted and/or pulled from the market. For example, organophosphate chlorpyrifos is no longer available for turfgrass use, and neonicotinoid use became restricted leaving many landscape managers searching for alternatives. At the same time recent demands on environmentally friendly, less toxic approaches to insect pest management are in high demand. One of the promising alternatives is biocontrol, or inundative use of nematodes, fungi, bacteria, and their metabolites, as an alternative to conventional chemicals. However, using living organisms are challenging and efficacy is greatly dependent on the application techniques, weather condition, and other factors. In addition, the biorational and biological methods cannot compete with the chemical control because of cost and lack of robust efficacy data. Practitioners are reluctant to invest in products with unknown efficacy.

Another challenge in the system has been brought by the changing weather patterns. The complexity of the species, their phenology and adaptation changes bring us to seek new information on how to manage the pest in the changing environment.

Department of Project: Stockbridge School of Agriculture

For the development of molecular diagnostic detection tools (by color change) for dollar spot pathogen, turfgrass leaves and thatch will be sampled biweekly from May through September for total DNA extraction. Molecular-based markers specifically targeting dollar spot pathogen will be designed based on sequences of dollar spot genomes which are publicly available and using existing programs. The designed DNA markers will be tested for validation using those DNAs including positive control DNA extracted from dollar spot culture grown on PDA. After validation, the markers will be tested using DNA extracted from leaves and thatch, before and after dollar spot symptoms, on multiple golf courses in MA and CT.

For the development of molecular diagnostic detection tools (by color change) for fungicide resistance in dollar spot pathogen, pure culture of dollar spot fungus will be isolated from infected leaves to be collected from fairways, putting greens, or tee boxes on golf courses only where superintendents are suspicious of resistance development due to the lack of control or shortened application interval. These isolates, along with previously characterized sensitive and insensitive isolates will be tested in vitro for sensitivity to each fungicide class on fungicide-amended PDA media.  After in vitro assays indicate putative resistance or reduced sensitivities, putative resistant isolates will be used for target gene sequencing for detection of mutation.  After mutations are confirmed, molecular-based markers specifically targeting each mutation in each fungicide class will be designed using sequences of dollar spot genomes which are publicly available and using existing programs. The designed DNA markers will be tested for further validation using DNA extracted from infected leaves from golf courses with suspected resistance in MA and CT.

Community & Economic Vitality

Department of Project: Environmental Conservation Dept.

Widespread, international and local interest in greening municipalities and increasing urban tree canopy cover continues, largely through community-based tree planting initiatives. It is generally estimated that newly-installed (i.e., planted) trees require at least 3 or more years before establishment, when they resume pre-transplant growth rates. Most trees installed in the urban environment are dug from the nursery field with a spade and wrapped in burlap and a metal basket (‘B&B’ or ‘balled and burlap’ or ‘BnB’). There is interest, however, by tree enthusiasts (i.e., shade tree committee members, Master Gardeners, etc.) and professional urban foresters (i.e., tree wardens/municipal foresters), in planting trees grown using other easier-to-plant systems, including a variety of container-grown (CG, IGF) and bare-root (BR) tree production methods. Ideally, trees that are being planted persist longer than the individuals that are installing them, thus trees grown from these production systems, must have the potential to grow long-term and reach maturity to provide optimal value in relation to the social, economic, and environmental services that urban trees are known for. This may be a challenge, since urban environments often present very difficult growing conditions that foster widespread urban tree morbidity and premature mortality. Though advances in understanding have been made, there is a dearth of empirical data describing the survival and growth of these trees, with the preponderance of research considering trees growing in traditionally forested environments or agricultural plots, rather than urban settings. Since budget constraints are routinely identified as a key limiting factor relative to urban forest management practices, there is also a need for further information concerning the longer-term costs associated with maintaining newly-installed urban trees.

Collecting growth and maintenance cost data on established urban oak specimens in Amherst, MA, produced using various nursery systems will 1) add to the overall base of knowledge concerning urban tree growth and survival 2) enable the quantification and further understanding of the relationship of urban tree growth/survival and nursery production system 3) Enable the quantification and further understanding of the long-term costs associated with planting and maintaining urban trees. The long-term goal of this work is to gather local, empirical data that will help urban forest practitioners consider the appropriate (i.e., most cost-effective, best-performing) nursery production system, when selecting trees for urban planting in Massachusetts and other New England communities.

This research project investigates the impact of designed landscapes on green gentrification and green space equity in urban areas, with a focus on award-winning greenspaces in the Northeastern U.S. The study aims to understand how these well-designed greenspaces influence factors like socioeconomic shifts, land use changes, access, quality, and neighborhood characteristics. It also seeks to develop an equity index for these greenspaces and create a toolkit for promoting equity in landscape design and evaluation.

This research considers ways that "social infrastructure" and "green infrastructure" can mitigate the impact of climate change and severe climate emergencies on vulnerable populations in Springfield, Massachusetts and similar cities. While there is ample research on ways to protect vulnerable populations (elderly, low-income, and minority populations) from climate change, very little research addresses the role that social infrastructure and green infrastructure can play. Even less research addresses this situation as it pertains to cities like Springfield, the small to mid-sized former manufacturing centers that comprise the country's "legacy cities," commonly known in Massachusetts as "Gateway Cities.". Springfield and other similar cities tend to have particular challenges that larger, richer cities do not experience to the same degree. Mid-sized legacy cities have relatively weak economies and have higher proportions of vulnerable residents (especially poor and elderly). With limited budgets, many of these cities have trouble meeting basic needs and lack the resources to invest in neighborhood parks and community infrastructure. Through community engagement, interviews, and surveys of neighborhood residents, our study may help demonstrate the importance of investing in these types of infrastructure. Our work may also be an important incentive for cities to implement capital projects or policies that give priority to investments in social and green infrastructure.
 

Environmental Conservation

Department of Project: Environmental Conservation Dept.

As Massachusetts faces increasing pressure from population expansion, along with increasing challenges due to climate change, we seek a solution to the growing demand in housing that supports the local timber industry and rural economies and also creates an opportunity to store more carbon both in our buildings and across our regional forested landscape. Recent advances in timber technology have produced promising new methods for meeting some of the demand for building materials, as well as the need to store carbon.

Department of Project: Geosciences Dept.

Reliable, sustainable sources of clean water are increasingly hard to come by. But did you know that there are a lot of additional benefits from cultivating and protecting freshwater wetlands atthe source of some of these waters? Wetland ecosystem services include, but are not limited to, providing verdant habitat and food supply for a large diversity of plant, animal and insect species, water filtration, slowing and spreading of floodwaters, limiting erosion, storage of carbon and other nutrients, temperature buffering, pollinator habitat and forage lands, and water storage. One of the most basic, defining metrics of a wetland is, as the name implies, its wetness. The relative water content in the soil can be assessed in a variety of ways, and this quantity alone is important for reasons beyond wetland function. Specifically, for a wetland to become established and remain functional independently, sufficient water must be present throughout the year to favor wetland plants and animals, which thrive in wet environments but are unlikely to outcompete invasives or other species in drier regimes. We forsee a continued interest in wetland restoration in Massachusetts and predict that measurable metrics to assess the success of such restoration efforts are desired. Two recent developments support this: first, Massachusetts DER created a new Cranberry Bog Program in 2018 to facilitate exactly these types of restorations, and second, Living Observatory (LO) has begun a learning collaborative of scientists, artists, and wetland restoration practitioners to document the science and best practices of freshwater wetland restoration projects. Building on recent projects and successes, we propose to identify and establish a comprehensive catalog of metrics for measuring the success of freshwater wetlands that have been restored. We will continue our observations of soil moisture and subsurface thermal regimes, and add additional observations of weather and climate variables, phenological change, subsurface water levels, water chemistry, and microclimates and topographic influences of microtopography and other restoration practices.

Department of Project: Environmental Conservation Dept.

Regeneration is the future of Massachusetts forests. It is critical for the conservation of the State's forestlands and for the continued provisioning of the myriad ecosystem services they provide (sustainable timber and wood products, carbon storage,wildlife habitat, clean drinking water, biodiversity, recreational opportunity, and aesthetic/intrinsic value). Global change related factors including novel climatic conditions, invasive plants, deer overpopulation, and habitat fragmentation threaten current and future forest regeneration within Massachusetts. These threats come at a critical time when we are already observing increased mortality of economically and ecologically important tree species across the State at the hands of non-native pests and pathogens. Ensuring successful regeneration of desired tree species and natural communities within these damaged forests is paramount to the continued health, vigor, and viability of the State's forest resources.Adaptive forest management may be used to overcome contemporary regeneration challenges, ensuring the conservation of healthy and valuable forest ecosystems. However, we currently lack sufficient regeneration data and scientific understanding of the various factors impacting regeneration to develop and test meaningful adaptive management strategies.

Department of Project: Environmental Conservation Dept.

For this project, we focus on three particular issues that can be addressed by landscape modeling.

The need to accommodate the expected large increase in solar energy generation and protect high value forests

Strategies for creating connected networks of forestland that incorporate railroads, roads and highways, and potential avenues for connectivity across transportation infrastructure (road-stream crossings)

Projecting future ecological integrity and landscape connectivity that accounts for geographic shifts in species distribution that may yield ecological communities unlike those we currently use to classify forest types (novel ecosystems)

Department of Project: Environmental Conservation Dept.

Forest dynamics and the spatial and temporal modeling of the dynamics of Food-Energy-Water (FEW) systems at a watershed scale are critical for sustainable land and resource management. The assessment of vegetation (Forest and plant biomass) and land use dynamics is vital for scientific innovation and for enhancing local and regional sustainability and resilience. Assessing built, natural, and social components and their interactions as a dynamic system can lead to comprehensive strategies that improve food production, conservation, energy efficiency, and water resources. Dynamic changes in FEW systems are complex processes, especially the state of the complex system and its trajectory over time. As the population increases and new demands on ecosystem services, watersheds face environmental, energy, and food challenges. This could include polluted waterways, floods, droughts, loss of forest and green space, energy inefficiencies, crop loss, yield loss, soil erosion, increasing density of built structures, and a deterioration in watershed services. Increasing population densities increase built components causing higher forest loss, impervious cover, wastewater discharges, stormwater surges, nonpoint source pollution, loss of open space, farmland loss, and habitat fragmentation that substantially impact watershed systems. Agricultural land is also at increasing risk from urbanization with pressure to produce more in a limited area and with limited resources.

The nexus between food, energy, and water (FEW) has strong interaction with land use-based assessment, requiring system-based modeling for policy. The system information on interactions, tradeoffs, trajectories, thresholds, and endpoints in FEW systems is needed to evaluate sustainable patterns and processes that can be used to manage built, natural, socioeconomic, and cyber systems. We propose to study these issues at a regional watershed scale through integrated spatial and temporal modeling of forest dynamics at a watershed scale. 

The goal of this research is to simulate and optimize interactions in patterns and processes in built, natural, and socioeconomic components and forest dynamics on FEW services based on a multiscale system at the watershed scale. Specifically, (i) to evaluate baseline spatial and temporal changes in FEW systems at the watershed scale; (ii) To assess the influence of changing built and natural environment on FEW dynamics and processes; (iii) to evaluate farmland management and its impacts on FEW systems; (iv) to study attitude, values, and behavior towards FEW outcomes under land-use patterns and conservation alternatives; (v) to develop a multiattribute, optimization model for pattern and BMP choice to enhance watershed sustainability for FEW provision; (vi) to develop a web-based decision support system (WDSS) with site-specific information for stakeholders on FEW resilience and conservation choices.

The target audience will include farmers, land owners, municipal officials, private forest owners, government agents, nonprofits, educators, scientists, and professionals. The information generated will cover the watershed-based assessment, strategies to sustain water resources through forest management, handling increasing urban demands through forest BMPs, supply augmentation potential through forest ecosystem functions, and potential effects of LID at the watershed scale. Educators can use the information to develop simple classroom activities demonstrating workshop concepts. 

Research activities in the Connecticut River Watershed with result in outcomes that directly benefit the target audience through capacity building and spatial information that will be helpful for decision-making. The workshops will provide information on the spatial distribution of water supplies and use and trends in distribution. The workshop will recommend strategies to sustain water resources and will involve brainstorming and breakout sessions to develop implementation plans. A website will be developed for the project and will be used to disseminate information to communities within the watershed and watersheds throughout the region and the US

Department of Project: Environmental Conservation Dept.

Forests are the natural vegetative cover for most of New England. In many parts of our region, the forests have been clearedtwice over the last 150 years, yet today they continue to dominate the landscape. Our forests have also faced threats, such asthe introduced chestnut blight, which removed the American chestnut (Castanea dentata), a once dominant tree species, fromthe landscape. Despite this and other losses, we continue to enjoy the many essential benefits forests provide to our daily lives,such as clean water, climate change mitigation, wildlife habitat, scenic landscapes, recreational opportunities, and forest products. In other words, our forests are inherently resilient. However, we are now facing an uncertain future, in which our forests will encounter many, often interacting, stressors, of particular note are forest conversion and parcellization (Stein et al. 2005; Olofson et. al. 2016); invasive insects (Hicke et. al.2012, Lovett et. al. 2016), and climate change (Franklin et. al. 2016, Janowiak et. al. 2018). Though our forests have shown themselves to be resilient, they also have characteristics that make them vulnerable to these stressors to varying degrees (e.g.,aging forest landowner population, simplified forest structure, and uniform composition). While there is uncertainty as to how our forests will react to these stressors, we can be confident that our forests will change. Understanding the ways in which these stressors will change our forests and developing strategies to address them is critical to maintaining the essential forest services on which we rely.

 

Department of Project: Stockbridge School of Agriculture

Increasing environmental stresses make crops ever more succeptible to the impact of plant viruses. Plant viruses affect plant functioning and, specifically, the root system. For example, virus infected cover crops may hamper root growth and activity. This may influence the effect of cover crops on the cycling of carbon and other nutrients in soils. Consequently, virus infections may undermine the beneficial use of cover crops to improve soil health, with unclear consequences for soil carbon storage, greenhouse gas emissions, and nutrient status. This project therefore tests how plant virus infection influences the impact of cover crops on soil carbon and nutrient cycling.

Department of Project: Environmental Conservation Dept.

A pressing problem for forest managers and society as a whole is the need to mitigate rapid environmental changes affecting allof life on earth. Third to only to habitat destruction and direct exploitation, biological invasions are a leading cause of extinctionand loss of biodiversity in forest ecosystems and around the world (Dirzo and Raven 2003). One poorly understood aspect ofbiological invasions is that the introduction of non-native organisms to areas outside their home range leads to novel ecologicalinteractions among species that have not historically co-existed. These new interactions raise key theoretical questions, suchas: How do species adapt to new environments as they expand their range? Can novel species interactions alter longstandinginteractions between native species? Do native species re-assemble into new food-webs with novel suites of species afterinvasion? We will address these questions in terms of invasive plants and their effects on native species of New England'sforest ecosystems.

Department of Project: Environmental Conservation Dept.

Objective 1: To build a godwit stopover map, we will use a surface water detection algorithm developed for wetland environments (Dynamic Surface Water Extent, or ‘DSWE’) on integrated Landsat-8 and -9 and Sentinel-2 surface reflectance data layers to roughly approximate the location and shape of all surface water along our roadside transects. We aggregate all connected water pixels observed during April and May into feature polygons, then overlay each water feature with suitability observations from our roadside surveys.

Objective 2: To investigate the associations between the occurrence of wetlands suitable for godwits, climate, and land-use, we will inspect the scaled variable importance and partial dependence plots of environmental indices in our random forest model. We will also verify the importance of each variable separately by comparing the prediction made from our full model to the prediction of a similar model with the respective variable randomized.

Objective 3: To identify the optimal network configuration of seasonal wetlands to support godwit migration, we take the results from Objectives 1 and 2 to determine the location and number of wetland sites in the study area that are suitable for godwits and other wetland-dependent migratory shorebirds. Then, to determine the number of stopover sites necessary to support migratory godwits in the region, we will apply network theory and centrality metrics to all sites identified in our stopover network map. Following Donnelly et al. (2021), we will evaluate four metrics for each site/node: its connectedness, betweenness, degree, and resistance. To evaluate the effects of potential future changes to this network, we will conduct incremental node removal experiments. First, we will evaluate a fifth metric — the integral index of connectivity — for each node before and after removal, and calculate their relative difference. Finally, we will use simulations of incremental random node removal to determine the median number of losses that will fragment the stopover network.

Objective 4: To assess the vulnerability of godwits to future climatic and land-use changes, we will use a generalized linear model to estimate the effects of precipitation, temperature, and agricultural practices on the total number of suitable stopover sites in the study area. For this, we generate maps of stopover sites from 2013-2023. We then extract total precipitation, as well as daily high and low temperatures over the study area from the ERA-5 reanalysis weather dataset. Finally, we extract corresponding crop cover acreage and total drain tiling acreage statistics for each year.

Objective 5: To develop a Shorebird Action Plan we will partner with the conservation organization, The Nature Conservancy. With their help, we will host a series of workshops that bring together land managers, landowners, and conservation practitioners to identify potential future actions to conserve shallow water wetlands in agricultural landscapes. In 2023 we will begin with three counties in which our previous work has indicated high concentrations of temporary-seasonal wetlands, as well as the presence of landowners interested in becoming involved in on-the-ground conservation actions. Then, in 2024, we will expand to 12 additional counties across the two states and include a broad array of participants representing a diverse cross-section of the stakeholder community. These workshops will focus on: 1) documenting the constraints faced by farmers, 2) generating potential actions that could facilitate seasonal wetland conservation while simultaneously benefiting farmers and other landowners, 3) synthesizing possible conservation actions that could provide shallow water wetland habitat to migratory shorebirds, 4) identifying existing or new incentive programs and strategies to scale the implementation of key conservation actions, and 5) deriving key principles for use in guiding future conservation effort

Department of Project: Environmental Conservation Dept.

Our focus is on the essential pollination services provided by bees on cranberry, the major crop in the region, as well as the bee community in southeastern Massachusetts. Bumble bees, the most common and efficient pollinators of cranberry are undergoing rapid decline. Thus, our focus is surveying and curating collections of bees, education, and research directed at the health of bumble bees; regarding the latter, we will quantify the major pathogens affecting bumble bee health and impacts of grower practices, particularly systemic sprays prior to bloom (contaminating pollen and nectar) and fungicides sprayed at bloom.

Department of Project: Environmental Conservation Dept.

The overarching goal of this project is to evaluate the potential for global change to affect marine ecosystems within the GOM.We will use a multi-pronged approach, investigating key marine fisheries and aquaculture species of economic importance. Wefirst focus on quantifying the current supply of larvae, a critical life stage for fisheries species, by developing a foundationalsampling framework using traditional taxonomic approaches. Second, we propose to use molecular techniques with larvae andeggs that are difficult to identify using taxonomy. Third, we will conduct focused laboratory experiments to investigate the impactof climate variables on larval performance. Fourth, we will engage directly with fisheries stakeholders to understand theconstraints and opportunities of future changes to species, or the timing and location of the fisheries that are targeting them.This project therefore has four major objectives:

1. Quantify larval supply of key fisheries species and evaluate match mismatch

2. Metabarcoding for fisheries species detection

3. Identify effects of climate on early life stages of key fisheries and aquaculture species

4. Stakeholder engagement to understand sensitivity and resiliency to climate change and the perspective of industry

Pages