Climate change and forest management can threaten blueberry microbes – differences between northern and southern blueberries

The diversity of symbiotic microbes in blueberries differs between southern and northern Finland, according to a new study. Microbes are essential for all forms of life.

"The study suggests that climate change and intensive forestry practices can change the diversity of symbiotic microbes in the fruits of blueberry, which in turn may affect, for example, the taste or shelf life of the fruits," says Professor Anna Maria Pirttilä.

Bilberry, or European Blueberry (Vaccinium myrtillus L.) is one of the most economically important wild forest berries in northern Europe, and lately the berries have been the subject of increasing research. However, the knowledge on microbes living in the fruit, and the berries in particular, is still in its infancy. "Symbiotic microbes can play an important role in the formation of health-promoting compounds in berries. Specifically, the accumulation of symbiotic microbes in berries, and the factors that determine their diversity, are poorly understood," says Postdoctoral Researcher Kaisa Lehosmaa.

According to the study, several factors, such as the weather conditions during the growing season, influence both microbial diversity and community structure. Climate change may therefore have multiple effects on the coexistence of wild berries and their microbes. The current research on symbiotic microbes focused on fungal endophytes in particular.

In their recent study, Phuong Nguyen, Doctoral Researcher at the University of Oulu, Kaisa Lehosmaa and Anna Maria Pirttilä and their colleagues show that the abundance of the genera Venturia, Cladosporium and Podosphaera is different in blueberries from southern and northern Finland. Specifically, Venturia is common in northern Finland, while Cladosporium is typical in southern Finland.

The study investigated the influence of climatic regions and their weather conditions (temperature, rainfall) during the growing season and soil properties (pH, nutrients) on blueberry endophytic communities in southern and northern Finland. In summary, the researchers conclude that the diversity and compositional structure of blueberry fruit endophytes follow similar patterns to those generally observed in plant leaves. They are shaped by different environmental factors, such as climate and the diversity of the surrounding forest vegetation, and these changes affect the symbiotic microbes also in blueberry.

The results of the study have been published in January 2024 in the internationally renowned journal Environmental Microbiome. The research was supported by the European Structural Funds, the Academy of Finland, the Finnish Cultural Foundation, the Olvi Foundation, the Kone Foundation and the University of Oulu.

Research article: Nguyen M-P., Lehosmaa K., Toth K., Koskimäki J.J., Häggman H., Pirttilä AM., 2024.Weather in two climatic regions shapes the diversity and drives the structure of fungal endophytic community of bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus L.) fruit. Environmental Microbiome.

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Research in Ecology and Genetics at the University of Oulu

Host-Microbe Interactions research group

Last updated: 8.4.2024