2020 has been a big news year and life has changed in ways that most of us never expected. At the start of the year record wildfires seemed like they could be the big news story of the year as huge blazes ravaged Australia. However, as we all know, it wasn’t just Australia and extreme climate events occurred across the globe. In this blog post Prof. Paul Thomas discusses the impact of climate change and the research he’s working on in collaboration with colleagues from the Universities of Cambridge and Stirling around what these changes mean for truffle production.
MSL blog: climate change and the impact on truffle production - December 2020
2020 has been a big news year and life has changed in ways that most of us never expected. At the start of the year record wildfires seemed like they could be the big news story of the year as huge blazes ravaged Australia. However, as we all know, it wasn’t just Australia: the US also recorded record breaking forest fires with the sky turning a very ominous orange as a result of the huge quantities of particles that were released into the atmosphere. Further afield, temperatures in June well within the artic circle reached over 100°F and some 35 million acres burned across eastern Russia.
These devastating events are symptomatic of, and exacerbated by, our rapidly changing climate. In fact, almost everywhere we look we see the signs of advancing climate change and the impacts it is having, such as the many species that are threatened with extinction as habitats change at a pace previously unrecorded in the geologically recent history of earth.
The climate has already changed since the advent of industrial revolution and the impacts of this have been observed almost everywhere we look, and fungi are no exception1. As a subterranean fruiting body, truffles may seem relatively immune to fluctuations in weather patterns or long-term shifts in climate and indeed the development of underground-fruiting may have been driven by a desiccating environment, to afford the fungi some protection from climatic extremes. However, we know that fluctuations in weather patterns can impact the fruiting of truffles2 and then last year with my colleague Ulf Büntgenat the University of Cambridge, we looked at the likely impact of climate change on truffle production across Europe3.
Using the most accepted climate change models and a 36 year data set of truffle production across the whole of France, Spain and Italy, we realised that truffles are far more sensitive than we previously thought. In fact, we came to the shocking conclusion that under the most likely climate change model, truffle production across Europe would likely collapse within a generation. However, there are two caveats to this conclusion:
1. With sufficient resources and depending on the scale of predicted change for the local area, there are management practices that can be employed to prevent a decline within an individual truffle orchard. Although the scale of change is too large and the needed resources too great to achieve this at a country wide level, some individual truffle plantations may be able to survive, especially if they have been cultivated in an area which has favourable climate predictions going forward.
2. The models that we based the predications on are now looking like they may actually be optimistic. Climate science is complex but as more data is collated, it looks like the rate and scale of change may be larger and not smaller, than we previously predicted. For example, as I write this a new study has just been published showing that the loss of artic sea ice (during summer months) will contribute further to global warming through the darker ocean surface absorbing more energy4.
To understand this process better, this year I’ve been working with a colleague from Stirling University to model the likely impacts of climate change on truffles with a high-resolution approach. Using a 1km grid scale, we will be able to see the likely outcome, in high spatial resolution as well as modelling in greater detail the sensitivity of these truffle species. This data will be crucial to help us navigate the coming years and protect, as best we can, these revered species.
Of course, we must all play a role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and a much stronger and unified global response is urgently needed. From a truffle orchard point of view, there are things that can be done to protect and increase truffle production and I will focus on those in a future blog post. For now, the message is clear: climate change is happening and we must use the best data and resources we can to prepare.
Paul Thomas is the founder of Mycorrhizal Systems Ltd and Honorary Professor at University of Stirling
1. Boddy, L., Büntgen, U., Egli, S., Gange, A. C., Heegaard, E., Kirk, P. M., ... & Kauserud, H. (2014). Climate variation effects on fungal fruiting. Fungal Ecology, 10, 20-33.
2. Büntgen, U., Egli, S., Camarero, J. J., Fischer, E. M., Stobbe, U., Kauserud, H., ... & Stenseth, N. C. (2012). Drought-induced decline in Mediterranean truffle harvest. Nature Climate Change, 2(12), 827-829
3. Thomas, P., & Büntgen, U. (2019). A risk assessment of Europe's black truffle sector under predicted climate change. Science of The Total Environment, 655, 27-34.
4. Wunderling, N., Willeit, M., Donges, J. F., & Winkelmann, R. (2020). Global warming due to loss of large ice masses and Arctic summer sea ice. Nature Communications, 11(1), 1-8.
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