Mycology in Sustainable Development:
Expanding Concepts, Vanishing Borders
At the 1995 Mycological Society of America meeting, I passed up the workshop on the role of mycology in sustainable development because I feared the content wouldn’t live up to its billing. Now that the workshop presentations have appeared in print, I find I was right. Despite containing some interesting and well written papers about fungi, the book fails to deliver on its title because the editors never come to grips with what “sustainable development” might be. Without that societal framework as a starting point, the individual authors’ presentations come across as only vaguely connected to issues of sustainability. More on that later.
The book comprises five sections and 14 individual papers:
II. ENLIGHTENED MANAGEMENT: MUSHROOMS AS NON-TIMBER PRODUCTS
1. The Pine Mushroom Industry in Canada and the United States: Why it Exists and Where it is Going (Scott Redhead)
2. The Pine Mushroom Industry in British Columbia (Nelly de Geus and Shannon Berch)
3. American Matsutake Mushroom Harvesting in the United States: Social Aspects and Opportunities for Sustainable Development (David Pilz and Randy Molina)
4. Wild Edible Mushrooms in Mexico: A Challenge and Opportunity for Sustainable Development (Victor M. Bandala, Leticia Montoya, and Ignacio H. Chapela)
III. ENLIGHTENED MANAGEMENT: INVENTORY AND MONITORING OF FUNGAL BIODIVERSITY
5. Recent Developments in Monitoring and Inventory of Fungal Diversity in the Northwestern United States (Michael A. Castellano)
6. Inventory and Monitoring Wild Edible Mushrooms in Mexico: Challenge and Opportunity for Sustainable Development (Luis Villareal and Armando Gomez)
7. Diversity of Macromycetes in Pine-Oak Forests in the Neovolcanic Axis, Mexico (Joaquin Cifuentes Blanco, Margarita Villegas Rios, Jose Luis Villareal-Ordaz, and Sigfrido Sierra Galvan)
8. Assessment of Similarity Indices for Undesirable Properties and Proposal of a New Index Based on Cost Functions (Rodham E. Tulloss)
IV. ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY TECHNOLOGIES
9. Role of Mycorrhizae in Restoration of Marginal and Derelict Land and Ecosystem Sustainability (Edith B. Allen, Ileana Espejel, and Concepcion Siguenza)
10. Diversity and Potential Use of Mycorrhizae for Sustainable Development in Mexico (Lucia Varela and Arturo Estrada-Torres)
11. Role of Fungal Biocontrol of Weeds in Ecosystem Sustainability (Robert W. Barreto and Harry C. Evans)
12. Two Models for the Development of Fungal Biological Control Agents as Instruments of Ecological Management (Charles Dorworth)
V. DIVERSIFICATION OF MARKETS AND NOVEL FUNGAL PRODUCTS
13. The Cultivation of Edible Fungi as a Sustainable Alternative in the Tropics (Jose E. Sanchez Vasquez, Graciela Huerta Palacios, and Leonides A. Calvo Bado)
14. Bioprospecting: Myths, Realities, and Potential Impact on Sustainable Development (Ignacio H. Chapela)
The main text is followed by a composite bibliography, which conveniently complements the literature cited sections in the individual chapters, and an index. Throughout the book, three major themes stand out: fungi provide us with valuable commodities, natural ecosystems must be managed to maintain the production of these commodities, and both of these have social implications.
I found six of the chapters to stand out. Redhead’s (Chapter 1) description of the biology and ecology of pine mushrooms and the commercial harvest industry of Canada and the northwestern US gives a valuable overview and provides an excellent review of the literature on the subject. The other two matsutake papers contribute further information to the picture, primarily from a social and governmental perspective.
The four chapters (4, 6, 7, and 10) dealing with Mexico all provided an interesting view of the fungi and social context within portions of that large diverse country. Much of this information is little known to most of us in the US and it is nice to see it becoming available.
Tulloss’s chapter (8) on similarity indices may prove to be the most useful of the book’s contributions, but it is also the most out-of-place. While the availability of ecological tools such as diversity and similarity indices is important to any management scheme, these are minor details that concern relatively few people compared to the larger issues of just how fungi fit in sustainability. Tulloss’s arguments seem sound and I suspect his proposed index will be a useful addition to our ecological toolbox. Unfortunately, those who might use such an index probably won’t be looking for it in a book such as this and those who are looking for this book won’t necessarily be seeking information on similarity indices.
Despite these high points, the book fails in its main purpose because the editors never provide any indication of what types of societal structures and processes would comprise “sustainable development.” In the introduction, the term is defined as “the maintenance of economic, social, and industrial growth while preserving the integrity of the biosphere.” Later, they acknowledge the impossibility of continued growth: “Economic progress, based on the current model of resource depletion, cannot be maintained or ‘sustained’ indefinitely because these utilized resources will eventually be exhausted.” Despite this acknowledgment, the editors provide no vision of what sustainability might be; rather the individual papers are implicitly premised on a continuance of the status quo, although many of the authors indicate the need for change. For instance, Varela and Estrada-Torres state “if we want sustainable management of natural resources to be more than an official discourse, we need to change our economic and political mentality and have a greater respect for, and more conscientious use of, our environment.” I couldn’t agree more, and it would’ve been very helpful if the editors had adopted some vision of what those new economic and political futures might be. Unfortunately they don’t, and we are left with a collection of papers that never specifically addresses potential linkages between fungi and sustainability of natural resources, ecosystems, ways of life, etc.
An example of the lack of connection between fungi and sustainability is the choice of matsutake to exemplify the role of mushrooms and other non-timber forest products in sustainable development. Certainly, using wild-gathered mushrooms as a food resource would provide an incentive to maintain forest habitats in relatively natural condition. However, there’s much more to sustainability than that. Matsutake is principally a luxury item meeting the demand of a largely wealthy clientele located a broad ocean away from western North America. Much of the harvest is conducted by non-local itinerant pickers and there is no value-added processing in the local communities. Getting the mushrooms from US or Canadian forest to Japanese market rapidly and in prime condition entails energy-intensive transport in refrigerated trucks and jet planes. Given that our present rate of fossil fuel consumption and the growing disparity between the wealthy minority and the impoverished minority cannot be sustained indefinitely, it is questionable that the matsutake market as it currently exists is an example of a sustainable practice, even though it may contribute to maintenance of natural ecosystems.
Admittedly, it is no easy task to figure out how to maintain a sustainable way of life for the 6 to 10 billion people who will share Earth over the next half-century. However, it should have been the first step both in planning the MSA workshop and publishing this book.
— Review by Steve Trudell, Seattle, WA
— Originally published in Inoculum