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Illuminating the mysterious truffle kingdom across Europe

Illuminating the mysterious truffle kingdom across Europe

Despite increasing global demands for truffles (Tuber spp), large gaps remain in our understanding of the fungus' biology and ecology. Emerging trends in cultivating and marketing practices of the central European Burgundy (Tuber aestivum) and Mediterranean Périgord black (Tuber melanosporum) truffle contradict low scientific knowledge regarding the species' belowground lifecycle, as well as its hidden and complex symbiotic association with an unknown diversity of host plants. We expected the eco-mycological findings from this project to be of topical and economical relevance, with an additional appeal to the general public. Novel truffle evidence from Great Britain will be particularly timely in the light of ongoing and predicted climate change, because Mediterranean truffle harvests are suffering from a long-term drying trend since the mid-1970s. At the same time, an increasing truffle business in the UK is still lacking solid scientific understanding of most of the species' functioning and productivity.

This project aims at exploring the complex biology and ecology of different truffle species in various parts of Great Britain, southern Germany, Switzerland and northeastern Spain. Systematic truffle hunting with trained dogs will, for the first time, be performed along environmental gradients in Great Britain. Soil and bedrock conditions, as well as micro-site effects and small-scale climate variations will be considered for investigations into the geographical distribution of fruitbodies. This novel evidence from the UK will be placed in a European-wide context. The project will further assess how truffle growth is performing under contrasting environmental settings, including colder and wetter versus warmer and dryer conditions on the British Isles and the Iberian Peninsula, respectively.

We will compare ecological parameters of truffle sites along a latitudinal gradient from Great Britain extending over Germany and Switzerland to Spain. We will consider innovative approaches and aspects of mycology and dendrochronology to best disentangle biological, climatological and physiological processes relevant to the productivity, phenology and diversity of different truffle communities. Together with a trained dog, we will perform our own truffle monitoring program in Great Britain. Furthermore, we will participate in field experiments in southern Germany (Black Forest) and Switzerland (nationwide) to better understand the subsurface symbiotic lifecycle of the Burgundy truffle (Tuber aestivum). We will be closely linked to comparable investigations on the Périgord black truffle (Tuber melanosporum), which will be conducted in the northeastern Spanish province of Soria. We will analyse the newly generated mycological dataset to quantify the direct and indirect effects of environmental change on the productivity, phenology and diversity of truffle growth in Atlantic, continental and Mediterranean climate.

Figure: In situ excavated Burgundy truffle (Tuber aestivum) fruitbody, southern Germany.