Illuminating the hidden kingdom of the truffle

“With the help of a well-experienced ‘truffle dog’ called Lucy and the Cambridge University Botanic Garden, researchers from Cambridge’s Department of Geography have begun a ‘natural’ experiment to study the seasonal changes and productivity of the Burgundy truffle. …

“We really don’t know much about the life of a truffle,” explains Professor Ulf Büntgen who hopes to discover how, when and where truffles grow and mature, how their spores are dispersed and by which animals, and how their lifecycle is affected by changing environmental conditions, including climate. …

Truffles live in symbiotic partnership with a host tree – the plant delivers sugars and the fungi provide nutrients. However, as soon as the truffle is unearthed, the truffle’s ecosystem, including its mutualistic partnership, is destroyed.

“No-one has succeeded in creating the necessary complexity of real-world conditions in a normal lab to understand the below-ground lifecycle of the truffle,” explains Büntgen. “The Cambridge University Botanic Garden is an almost perfect living laboratory, potentially allowing us a glimpse into the life cycle and community structures of truffles across time and space. It is an immense privilege to be able to carry out this kind of research at this historic site.” …

Lucy will be vital to the success of the project. Büntgen trained his family pet in just four days. Given the chance, she would happily search the undergrowth for many hours simply for the pleasure of finding, digging up and wolfing down one of these nutty-smelling delicacies.”

Excerpt. Read the whole article on the University of Cambridge website or download as PDF

Film by Cambridge University: 


Clip from BBC Countryfile 11 Feb 2018: 

Thank you to Ellie Harrison from BBC Countryfile for joining Ulf and Lucy on a truffle hunt in the Cambridge Botanic Garden and for visiting the dendrochronology laboratory of the University of Cambridge, Department of Geography. This clip was part of the BBC one program Countryfile, first shown 6:30pm, 11 Feb 2018.