CA Mushrooms
CA Mushrooms

Book Review

Mushrooms, Humans and Nature in a Changing World:
Perspectives from Ecological, Agricultural and Social Sciences

Edited by Jesus Perez-Moreno, Alexis Guerin-Laguette, Roberto Flores Arzu, & Fu-Qiang Yu, Editors
2020; Springer Nature Switzerland AG
ISBN 978-3-030-37377-1
ISBN 978-3-030-37378-8 (eBook)
480 Pages with 150 color plates
Price: $179.99 Book, $139.00 eBook
Available at Springer: and other booksellers.

About 2.5 billion people inhabited our planet when I was born. In the early 1990s, when I started researching the sustainability of harvesting edible forest mushrooms, our population had increased to 5.3 billion. Now it is 7.8 billion and is projected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050. These figures illustrate the immense challenges we face when tackling global warming and figuring out how, as a species, to sustain the healthy ecosystems that we depend upon for our existence. xxx Mushrooms, Humans and Nature in a Changing World: Perspectives from Ecological, Agricultural and Social Sciences addresses a small subset of those challenges, but the topic of this book is emblematic of the complexity of all sustainability issues and their importance to people around the globe. Arguably, humans have collected, used and eaten forest fungi for as long as we have been human, likely longer. Complex cultural traditions have been documented in historical times. Currently, wild forest mushrooms are harvested on every continent (except Antarctica, of course). Some forest fungi are harvested for medicinal use. Others are decomposers, thus they can be cultivated with relative ease. The most abundant edible forest mushrooms are ectomycorrhizal. Symbiotically interacting with tree roots, these species have sufficient on-going supplies of nutrition from their tree hosts to support abundant annual fruiting. Forests around the world, however, are under tremendous pressure for other uses and deforestation or degraded forest ecosystems often result. Hence this book focuses predominantly on edible mycorrhizal mushrooms.

At first glance, this may seem a narrow topic, but the ramifications of this symbiosis between trees, edible forest mushrooms and the people who collect them branches into a multitude of sub-topics ripe for study. These include ecology, forest management, reforestation, afforestation, biology, taxonomy, biodiversity, genetics, cultivation, biotechnology, sustenance, non-meat protein, cultural traditions, linguistics, ethnomycology, land tenure, harvesting access and regulations, local/national/international commerce, sustainable economic development, mycotourism, conservation, climate change, and shifting biomes (the list goes on). The research being done on these various aspects of humanity’s interactions with edible mycorrhizal mushrooms is voluminous enough to warrant a journal dedicated to the topic. Currently the literature is scattered in other journals that focus on the related sub-topics.

Since 1996, there has been a community of scientists who have, every few years, participated in a series of meetings called the International Workshop on Edible Mycorrhizal Mushrooms, or IWEMM for short. For readers interested in the history of these ongoing meetings, check out the article on Mayan Mycology (IWEMM-7) in FUNGI, 2015, 8(1): 27–33. IWEMM-8 was held in Cahors, France and IWEMM-9 was held in Mexico. The latter is described in an article on Mexican Mycophilia (IWEMM-9) in FUNGI, 2019, 11(5): 44–51. Next, IWEMM-10 was held in Japan in October of 2019 and IWEMM11 was planned to coincide with a United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity Conference in Kunming, China in 2020 (obviously postponed). Each of these workshops was attended by hundreds of researchers, students, and members of the interested public from numerous countries on all continents except Antarctica of course.

The idea for this book evolved during the IWEMM-9 in Mexico, and it includes a similar diversity of contributors and topics as can be found at all of the IWEMM meetings. Be it duly noted that the editors faced a daunting challenge to compile a coherent book on this immense collection of subtopics. They only partially succeeded in this goal, but the contributed chapters do encompass a wide range of geographical and sociocultural settings that illustrate the complexity and interconnectedness of the book’s topics. Chapter 1, “Setting the Scene,” provides a cogent current overview of how peoples around the world are interacting with forest mushrooms. For detailed information about the contributed chapters, the link for the publisher (Springer), above, provides the reader a free list of all of the chapter titles, authors and abstracts.

All four editors are preeminent mycologists in this field and have collaborated extensively. Jesus Perez- Moreno hosted the IWEMM-9 in Mexico. Alexis Guerin-Laguette is the Secretary of the Scientific Committee for the IWEMMs. Roberto Flores Arzu hosted the IWEMM-7 in Guatemala. Fu-Qiang Yu may again be the organizer for the postponed IWEMM in Kunming, China. These editors are also leading authors of some of the more comprehensive chapters in Part II of the book, “Biodiversity and Cultivation.”

Although few of the book’s authors are native English speakers, the editing is exemplary, as would be expected from a publisher like Springer. The book is full of wonderfully colorful images of people with mushrooms and smiles. The images, figures and tables are well chosen, illustrative of the text and of appropriate size and quality throughout. For a reader who wishes to delve more deeply into the topics presented, every chapter has extensive citations for relevant recent literature. Of course, the price for the hardcover book is daunting for the casual reader, but there are a couple of options. Springer sells the eBook version for $40 less and chapters can be purchased individually for $29.95. One could also ask their local, community college or state library system to obtain circulating copies.

That said, the book is likely to be most valuable for professors and students being introduced to sustainability topics involving mycology. It would make an excellent text book. As one of the editors told me, “I hope it can inspire young scientists, but also environmentalists, sociologists, and policy makers”.

To adapt to our changing world, I believe we are called by destiny to respectfully engage every aspect of the natural world. This book is a valuable contribution to that end.

— Review by David Pilz
— Originally published in Fungi