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article imageMorel mushroom abundance after wildfires is focus of new study

By Karen Graham     Jul 27, 2016 in Environment
University of Montana forest ecology professor Andrew Larson has posted a research paper that estimates the abundance of morel mushrooms after a wildfire in California's Sierra Nevada mountains.
Morchella or the true morel mushroom is a genus of edible mushrooms. The morel has a distinctive honeycomb appearance that is hard to mistake. They are sought by thousands of mushroom enthusiasts every spring in Oregon's Cascade Mountains and much of the western United States.
"So many people love to harvest and eat morel mushrooms," Larson said in a press release, "but there is very little research that measures the abundance of morels after a forest has burned. We wanted to give forest managers concrete data on morel abundance."
A MOREL MUSHROOM EMERGES FROM THE YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK FOREST FLOOR THE SPRING FOLLOWING A FOREST ...
A MOREL MUSHROOM EMERGES FROM THE YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK FOREST FLOOR THE SPRING FOLLOWING A FOREST FIRE.
C. ALINA CANSLER./University of Montana
The area Larsen and his team used for their study is a long-term research plot called the Yosemite Forest Dynamics Plot within Yosemite National Park. A wildfire burned the site in September of 2013, killing over 70 percent of the trees.
In May of 2014, the researchers surveyed 1,119 small sample plots within the research site. The ground surface where morels were found was burned completely, says Larsen. The morels were also found, as is typical, growing close together, yet were unevenly distributed across the ground.
Yellow morels (Morchella esculenta and related species) are more commonly found under deciduous trees rather than conifers, while black morels (Morchella elata and related species) are mostly found in coniferous forests, disturbed ground and recently burned areas
Larsen says the burned white fir forests in Yosemite alone could produce an average crop of more than one million morels per year. “The magnitude of post-fire morel production, especially the first year after a fire, clearly supports the park’s current rule allowing people to pick one pint per day for personal use.”
Larsen and his team were surprised at the small number of studies that have been done on post-fire morel mushroom productivity. "We reviewed every published paper on post-fire morel mushroom productivity we could find," Larson said.
“Amazingly, only three earlier studies – in Alaska, Oregon and British Columbia, Canada, provide statistically sound estimates of morel abundance after forest fires.” One study published in 2010 by Canadian researchers, focused on post-fire "microsites" within the burned area.
Black morels growing in the  Peace River Area  British Columbia  Canada.
Black morels growing in the Peace River Area, British Columbia, Canada.
Johannes Harnisch
Another study on post-fire morel harvests was done in 2005 in Alaska. In this study, it was specifically noted that one year after a wildfire, morel mushroom growth seemed to be prolific.
Even with these few studies, we still know very little about their taxonomy, biology, ecology, cultivation, and safety. That is why Professor Larsen and his research team have proposed a conceptual model to guide future research into these mushrooms.
This study, "Post-fire morel (Morchella) mushroom abundance, spatial structure, and harvest sustainability," was published in the journal Forest Ecology and Management and is available online.
More about morel, Ecology, fire burned, postfire production, quantification
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