Socio-economic, scientific, and political benefits of mycotourism

Societies are particularly vulnerable if long-term negative effects of climate change coincide with the impacts of extended economic crises. The widespread rural areas of the Iberian Peninsula, for instance, not only suffer from an exceptionally high rate of recent unemployment, but also experience severe summer drying since around the 1970s. Although the ongoing intertwining of climatic and environmental, as well as economic and political factors is alarming in many southern European countries, it may also offer unexpected scientific challenges and research opportunities among various fields of (basic and applied) ecology, with subsequent effects on conservation biology at different spatiotemporal scales. 

In the present study, we describe the socio-economic, scientific and political benefits of mycotourism – a novel concept of eco-tourism. We use an interdisciplinary example from rural Spain, where a diverse mushroom-related industry is emerging. We demonstrate how innovative ecological research programs and conservation plans can help compensating losses from Iberia’s ongoing economic situation.

We then focus on the mycological icon-species, the black Périgord truffle, to advocate for a stronger involvement of environmental sciences into commercial endeavours that already experience drought-induced instability. Finally, we stress the importance of political attempts to facilitate a non-bureaucratic implementation of interrelated ecological research avenues into the emerging sector of truffle cultivation and production, not only for improving rural development programs, but also to establish sustainable landscape conservation strategies and ecosystem management services in a diversity of environments around the globe. 

With respect to the current economic and climatic conditions across much of the Iberian Peninsula, our case study appears to be particularly timely and important for policy decision making and environmental resource management with wide-ranging and long-lasting implications for regional to international the economic systems. In fact, mycotourism describes a novel branch of ecological-related activities that generates not only economic but also ecological and political profits. 

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