Got Michigan mushroom mania? Thank climate change.

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My plans for an autumn mushroom hunting trip to Michigan’s Jordan River Valley were thwarted this year by the usual fall insanity — school, work, kids’ activities.

But over the past week or so, I’ve had only to step out my door on these warm, humid fall days to encounter breathtaking specimens of Michigan fall fungi.

Patches of shaggy mane dot a neighbor’s lawn, a massive chicken-of-the-woods festoon a nearby decaying log, and glossy honey mushrooms sprout in my garden bed.

The mushrooms’ sudden materialization and radiant colors — vibrant whites, yellows, and reds — demand attention; as if beckoning me to join them in one last hurrah to fecundity ahead of winter’s darkness.

Though some may celebrate the coming of spring morel season, autumn is truly Michigan’s mushroom bonanza time. And that time may be getting a boost due to climate change.

Increased moisture and higher humidity brought on by more frequent and intense rainfall, combined with warmer temps, create ideal fruiting conditions for fall mushrooms. And because it stays warmer for longer in autumn in Michigan these days, the mushroom fruiting season gets an extension.

Chicken-of-the-woods (Laetiporus sulphureus sp.) near my house, Sept. 24, 2021 . Photo by Nina Ignaczak.

The State of the World’s Fungi 2018 report by the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew discusses the impact of climate change on mushrooms. Changes in temperature and rainfall impact mushrooms' diversity, range, reproductive season length, and the timing of their fruiting (production of the spore-bearing structures we commonly refer to as “mushrooms’).

According to an analysis of herbarium specimens and citizen science records, the mushroom season has doubled in length in some European countries since 1950. Similar changes have been documented in North America and Asia.

According to an analysis of herbarium specimens and citizen science records, the mushroom season has doubled in length in some European countries since 1950.

Climate change also appears to be delaying the fruiting season of some species. Research has shown that edible porcini (Boletus edulis) and chanterelles (Cantharellus spp.) begin their reproductive season later in the season than they did during the 1950s. Mean annual temperature changes of as little as 0.2°C can shift the fruiting season of these species by a whole day, particularly for autumn-reproducing fungi.

A study in Norway found autumn-reproducing mushrooms on average fruited 12.9 days later in 2006 than they did in 1980. The delay impacted earlier-fruiting species more than late-fruiting ones, resulting in the fruiting season becoming compressed for those species. Spring fruiting has also been found to happen earlier in Europe. These effects can vary considerably across species. And some mushrooms in the UK appear confused — popping up out of season.

What’s the upshot of these changes? More fun for mushroom hunters in the short term, indeed.

As for the planet, scientists don’t know entirely what these changes mean. Fungi play an outsize role in global carbon cycling by breaking down organic matter. Mushrooms both release carbon dioxide during decomposition and also store it in the cell walls of their mycelium — the massive number of filaments comprising the fungus’ biomass in the soil below ground. (The fruiting body is the proverbial “tip of the iceberg” of the mushroom world — most of the biomass of a fungus is its mycelium.)

Higher temps lead to faster decomposition, which may mean more carbon is released into the atmosphere. And nitrous oxide in greenhouse gas emissions destroys the soil fungi that store carbon. One study suggested that global warming may decrease the capacity of fungi to store carbon in soil by 20 percent.

For now, head out the door and keep your nose to the ground, and feel free to post pics of your finds in the comments!

For more information on Michigan’s mushrooms, check out these resources:

Source: Midwest American Mycological Association

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