With the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness most definitely upon us, it’s a good time to start looking out for fungi. In fact, researchers have found that owing to climate warming, we now have twice as long to look for them as we used to have.
Professor Alan Gange, of the University of London, has been analysing data on fungal fruiting from the last 60 years or so. It’s research that is close to his heart, since it was his father, a stonemason in Salisbury, who began collecting records in the early 50s, and inspired Salisbury Natural History Society members to help. The database now comprises a staggering 64,000 records for 2,483 species and is providing some interesting insights.
The average fungal fruiting season when records began was around 33 days, but in the last decade this has more than doubled, with first fruiting much earlier, and last fruiting much later. In addition, some species are beginning to fruit in spring as well as autumn, and mychorrhizal species (those that form mutually beneficial relationships with trees or other plants) may be switching or finding new hosts in some cases. The research, published in the journal Science, suggests an increase in late summer temperatures and autumn rainfall are significant, and that one outcome could be increased decay rates in forests.
Prof Gange’s work underlines the importance of long term biological recording, such as that undertaken by our many Nature’s Calendar recorders. We know from this there are changes in seasonal events and the data is proving invaluable for many researchers trying to pin down the links with climate change, and the knock-on effects these changes could have for ecological systems, and everything they provide for us.
In political terms, climate change seems to have dropped off the agenda somewhat. We have heard recently of record levels of summer ice melt in the Arctic, and are warned by climate change experts that we have only 50 months to curb greenhouse gas emissions if we are to avoid a more than 2 degree centigrade rise in global temperatures, above which a “domino” effect of environmental impacts could ensue.
Fungi, and so many other parts of the natural world, are inherently fascinating, and it is their beauty, intricacy, and mystery that inspires so many to take up recording in the first place, leading to development of incredible records dating back decades. We need to keep recording, but also really start listening to what these records are telling us about the future of the planet we depend upon.
Gange, A.C., Gange, E.G., Sparks, T., and Boddy, L. (2007) Rapid and Recent Changes in Fungal Fruiting Patterns. Science 316 p 71.
Sian Atkinson, Conservation Communications & Evidence Adviser