Truffles may disappear in decades
Modelling suggests climate change will end the gourmet fungus industry sooner rather than later. Samantha Page reports.
This could be the last century for truffles, because climate change threatens to wipe out the culinary delicacy.
An investigation that looks at more than three decades of data finds that production of the lucrative black truffle, Tuber melanosporum, could end in the next 50 to 80 years as the Mediterranean region grows warmer and drier.
"Our new study predicts that, under the most likely climate change scenario, European truffle production will decline by between 78 and 100% between 2071 and 2100,” says lead author Paul Thomas, of the University of Stirling, UK.
Thomas and his colleagues looked at 36 years of black truffle yield from France, Spain, and Italy and correlated the data to weather conditions over that timespan. They then used climate models to predict future fungus yields.
Continued production through 2071 could even be optimistic, Thomas says: “The decline may well occur in advance of this date, when other climate change factors are taken into account, such as heatwaves, forest fires, drought events, pests and disease.”
France, Spain, and Italy are the largest producers of black truffles, which today cost around $2000 per kilogram. The industry is worth hundreds of millions of dollars and is projected to grow to as much as $8 billion in the next two decades, the study reports. That will change if climate change continues as scientists expect.
The research is just the latest prediction that climate change will imperil many favourite foods – while putting the entire supply chain at risk. The UN’s World Food Program calls food insecurity one of the “most significant impacts of climate change”.
And while no one dining at a fancy restaurant will starve for lack of black truffles, the business behind the fungus supports a wide range of economic activity.
"We risk losing an industry worth hundreds of millions of pounds to the economy,” Thomas says.
“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.”
According to a 2014 study that looked at truffle production around the world, “the total economic impact [of the industry] includes not only fresh truffles sold by farmers, but also agritourism, local mycological gastronomy, production of value-added truffle products, truffle fairs and retail markets, increase in agricultural land price in truffle-growing regions, production of mycorrhizal seedlings in nurseries, dog training, consumption of agricultural supplies by truffle growers, [and] technical assessment services.”
In recent years, black truffles have been cultivated in Australia, New Zealand, China, America, and South Africa, albeit with mixed success, the researchers say.
Thomas’ study, which appeared in the journal Science of the Total Environment, also suggests that production of black truffles could move rather than end – but notes that action is necessary.
“These findings indicate that conservational initiatives are required to afford some protection to this important and iconic species,” he says. “Potential action could include the expansion of truffle plantations into new territories of a more favourable future climate.”