Climate change is already having an impact on how we live and what we do. Rising temperatures and more extreme weather events will affect everyone, as has been made abundantly clear here in Maine by our recent storms and floods.

Farmers and gardeners need to arm themselves with information to help them adjust planting and harvesting schedules in response to these changing weather patterns, which, in turn, are changing where insects, plants and animals live. Barracuda – the acronym stands for the Biodiversity and Rural Response to Climate Change Using Data Analysis – is a regional research program that is designed to help. A joint project of state universities in Maine and Vermont, it is gathering complex current and historic data to make available, in understandable forms, to farmers and others.

At the Maine agricultural show in Augusta in January, I was pleased to find Katie Corlew, a representative of Barracuda (, and not just because the project’s name reminded me of the car that my sister drove in the late 1960s. Later, I called Corlew for a telephone interview.

“We are trying to create science that is useful and available and won’t just sit on a fence somewhere,” said Corlew, a University of Maine associate professor who leads the project’s community engagement component.

The four-year project, now in its last year, is funded by the National Science Foundation, and focuses on several climate-change topics, including natural adaptation and human adaptation. Barracuda builds models to forecast how plants, insects and other animals are expected to shift from their traditional habitats over the next 20 to 50 years because of the changing climate. Think lobsters moving north as the oceans warm. The program gathers data on, for example, whether warmer temperatures could result in increased yield in crops such as blueberries; and, on a less positive note, whether more irrigation will be needed to get those crops to harvest. The goal of Barracuda is to provide information to farmers, or anyone else, about operational changes they’ll need to make to cope with the changing climate.

The Barracuda research project helps farmers and gardeners prepare for climate change. The data it collects could tell Mainers when certain birds, such as this Ruby-throated Hummingbird, will arrive in their garden. Climate change is changing the migration patterns of birds. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

According to Corlew, Barracuda could give gardeners and bird lovers information on when hummingbirds might be expected to show up in a specific location and then give them information to ensure they’ve planted the right flowers to feed the ravenous birds when they get there. (Climate change is putting animals’ natural patterns increasingly out of sync with their environments, creating mismatches between, say, the bloom time of a particular flower and the hatching of a caterpillar that must eat it in order to survive.) Barracuda could also predict when aggressive new pests are expected to arrive in specific areas, and help farmers learn how to combat them.


The site is still in development. I couldn’t get it to work for me – I admit I am not great with computers. Things in development often have glitches, and by the time the site is complete, presumably people won’t have the problems I encountered. But even when it’s working perfectly, it won’t tell growers what to do.

“We just provide information and let them figure it out,” Corlew said. “I’ve found Maine farmers are good at that.”

Corlew is not a climate or agriculturalist scientist, as you might expect. She’s a psychology professor. She also works as a coordinator for the University of Maine’s Bangor Community Gardens and Labyrinth and has taught an undergraduate course on the Psychology of Disaster and Climate Change.

Corlew started gardening herself about eight years ago. Hearing fellow gardeners talk about how the climate has changed increased her levels of stress. Her work with Barracuda, she said, is one way she deals with that stress.

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at:

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