Researchers study solutions to climate change in Douro vineyards

Douro vines suffering from lack of rain, temperature/ pest increases

Researchers from the Faculty of Sciences of the University of Porto (FCUP) are leading a project that aims to study “green strategies” to mitigate the effects of climate change on vineyards in the Douro region.

The project, entitled VineProtect, aims to “improve the resilience” of vineyards, transposing to the wine sector what is done in medicine, that is, “looking at the microbiome as a structuring part of the plant“, said FCUP in a statement published today.

Among the researchers’ objectives is the development of solutions based on live fungi to combat other fungi and common diseases in the vineyard, as well as the creation of a bio-hydrogel from pruning waste.

Cited in the statement, lead researcher Conceição Santos said that the project “focuses mainly on the vineyards of the Douro region, since the terroir‘ there is very threatened by climate change“.

In this sense, researchers intend to find strategies to mitigate the impact of the decrease in rainfall, increase in temperature, and incidence of pathogens.

“We intend to focus on the sustainable protection of vine diseases, on the characterisation of the genetic heritage of the region’s microbiome and on improving sustainable soil management“, added Santos, noting that at iB2 – the Integrative Biology and Biotechnology Laboratory of FCUP, collections of native bacteria and fungi that can be beneficial to the vine are already being created and studied.

Also quoted, agronomist and iB2 Lab member João Prada explained that “there are fungi and bacteria that are beneficial and have characteristics that can enhance the plant’s use of water, nutrient absorption and even the plant’s defences against pathogens in the soil”.

The project, which runs until 2025, involves Portuguese, Italian, Turkish and Moroccan researchers.

In Portugal, the consortium also includes experts from the University of Trás-os-Montes and Alto Douro (UTAD).

Each country in the consortium will have a collection of native bacteria, and in Portugal some microorganisms that promote the growth and development of vines are currently being selected in the laboratory.

Fieldwork is taking place in the three sub-regions of the Douro: in Baixo Corgo and Cima Corgo on two Sogrape farms, and in Douro Superior in vineyards of Gerações de Xisto.

Research also focuses on the study and use of nitrogen-fixing plants (such as legumes), which can help the soil retain water and make the nutrition of the vines more efficient.

The bio-hydrogel from pruning residues will be developed by researchers in Turkey and applied in the Douro vineyards, the idea being that it will help retain water in the soil.

This project is funded at around €761,000 by PRIMA, a European Union programme for research and innovation in solutions for the Mediterranean region, with the Portuguese institutions involved each receiving €250,000 of the total funding.

What it shows is that practices (like permaculture) in the past considered “fringe” are now being brought into the mainstream, by dint of the fact that they make so much more sense than the use of chemicals, which ultimately destroy Nature’s microbiome.

Source material: LUSA