Spain through the looking glass

Climate change threatens black truffles

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Black truffles threatened by climate change

Climate change looks set to claim another victim. After threatening to drown entire islands and swallow up the coastal regions of various continents, it seems that our cheeky old friend the climate now has Périgord black truffles in its sights.

Black truffles (Tuber melanosporum) are among the world’s most exclusive delicacies and can fetch up to €2,000 a kilogram. In the 1960s, crop yields were still around 200–300 tonnes a year, but this has fallen to around 25 tonnes annually in recent times.

Now scientists are saying that hotter summers and more frequent droughts have caused these paltry harvests in the Mediterranean heartlands of truffle production.

In a letter to the journal Nature Climate Change, investigators said black truffle harvests in key zones in Spain, France and Italy have been shrinking since a peak in 1978 despite ramped up efforts at cultivation.

In their letter, the Swiss-led international team said they had compared truffle harvests with weather patterns in the key production areas of Aragon in north-eastern Spain, Périgord in southern France and Piedmont and Umbria in northern Italy. They found that Spanish and French yields had fallen at a similar rate since the 1978 crop because of drier summers in that period. Yields in northern Italy were less affected because of higher rainfall in the two Italian areas studied.

Cooler and wetter summers are the best conditions for Périgord black truffles while warm, dry summers mean less fruiting and lower productivity in Mediterranean forest ecosystems. This is a particular problem for truffles because they depend on their host trees, the oak and hazelnut, for growth.

The scientific team, which included Jesús Julio Camarero from Spain’s Instituto Pirenaico de Ecología, is gloomy about prospects for the black truffle, with Camarero saying this century was expected to bring hotter summers and increased evapotranspiration.

It’s not all bad news for truffle lovers though. The same weather patterns that are biting into black truffle harvests across the Mediterranean basin could see forests north of the Alps becoming top breeding grounds for both natural and cultivated truffles.

There is recent evidence of a general increase in fungi in Switzerland while Burgundy truffles (Tuber aestivum) have taken off in southern Germany.

(Picture credit: Ulrich Stobbe, Freiburg i.Br.)


Written by georgemills25

November 30, 2012 at 10:24

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