A warmer, drier climate could be the end of a favorite, earthy rare fungus that grows underground and has sparked culinary inventions like truffle oil French fries and infused chocolates.
The black truffle, Tuber melanosporum, is a “culinary icon” and can cost as much as £1,000 per kilogram, putting the truffle industry at an estimated worth of hundreds of millions of pounds. According to the study, future projections could put the study as high as £4.5 billion in the next 20 years – if they make it that far.
“Our new study predicts that, under the most likely climate change scenario, European truffle production will decline by between 78 and 100 percent between 2071 and 2100,” said study author Paul Thomas in a statement.
“However, the decline may well occur in advance of this date, when other climate change factors are taken into accounts, such as heatwaves, forest fires, drought events, pests, and disease.”
Thomas says the industry is at risk of losing “hundreds of millions of pounds to the economy,” but the socio-economic impact of losing truffle mushrooms could be felt at a much larger scale considering harvesting is central to local culture and history.
“This is a wake-up call to the impacts of climate change in the not-too-distant future. These findings indicate that conservational initiatives are required to afford some protection to this important and iconic species,” said Thomas.
Publishing their work in Science of the Total Environment, researchers 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.
“Based on 36-year-long, continuous records of Mediterranean truffle yield, we demonstrate that decreased summer precipitation together with increased summer temperatures significantly reduce the fungus' subsequent winter harvest,” wrote the authors.
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 could be too late. Truffles are usually only found naturally, attempts to farm them have been notoriously tricky with low yield.
“Our results emphasize the need for unraveling the direct and indirect effects of climate change on Europe's truffle sector and underline the importance of conservation initiatives at local to international scales,” they conclude.