The lucrative black truffle, also known as the Périgord truffle, is in danger of vanishing within a generation due to climate change, according to new research by the University of Stirling.
A warmer, drier climate could be the end of this favorite truffle species - Tuber melanosporum - the rare underground fungus that has sparked culinary inventions like the world-famous truffle oil French fries.
The decline will have a massive economic and ecological impact and could be accelerated by other factors, according to a paper from Scotland’s University of Stirling entitled "A risk assessment of Europe's black truffle sector under predicted climate change" and published last month in Science of the Total Environment.
Truffles are notoriously difficult to cultivate and they are usually only found naturally. Lead researcher Dr. Paul Thomas from the Faculty of Natural Sciences predicts that under the most likely climate change scenario, European truffle production will decline by between 78 and 100 percent between 2071 and 2100. Threats against the prestigious truffle include forecasted heatwaves, forest fires, pest, and disease outbreaks in the face of a warmer and drier climate – all factors, the authors note, are worth addressing before it's too late.
"We risk losing an industry worth hundreds of millions of pounds to the economy. However, the socio-economic impact of the predicted decline could be substantially larger as truffle harvesting and related activities form a key component of local history and cultural activity," Dr. Thomas said.
Dr. Thomas, working with Professor Ulf Büntgen at the University of Cambridge, studied continuous records for several decades across Europe indicating local weather trends and compared it against climate model projections that estimate the impact of climate change on future truffle yields. The team correlated the data with local weather conditions to assess the impact of climate on production – and combined the results with state-of-the-art climate model projections to predict the likely impact of climate change on truffle yields.
"This is a wake-up call to the impacts of climate change in the not-too-distant future," Dr. Thomas said. "These findings indicate that conservational initiatives are required to afford some protection to this important and iconic species. Potential action could include the expansion of truffle plantations into new territories of a more favorable future climate.
The researchers also concluded that management strategies should further include mulching materials and cultivation practices to mitigate soil temperature fluctuations and conserve soil moisture.