Declining Morel Mushrooms Spark Concerns Over Climate Change and Conservation

Declining Morel Mushrooms Spark Concerns Over Climate Change and Conservation

Seraiah Alexander
Seraiah Alexander
February 22, 2024
5 min

There’s a reason why chefs across the globe are obsessed with morel mushrooms – their unique appearance, rarity, and distinct flavor make them a coveted ingredient in many kitchens. But these fungi are special beyond their edible nature, as the thrill of the hunt is an exciting treat for foragers every morel season

Unfortunately, one of the world’s most favorite fungi may be under threat due to several factors, primarily climate change. As morel populations appear to decline every year, scientists and foragers alike are seeking out ways to protect this beloved mushroom species before they completely disappear in certain regions.

The fragile nature of morels

Morels are quite particular in the conditions they will grow in, requiring an intricate balance between temperature, moisture, and soil composition. Their temperamental nature makes them a very rare delicacy. In fact, one pound of fresh Morels can cost over $40, but they can still be foraged in the wild for free if you know when and where to look. 

In the United States, morels typically emerge during the spring, as winter’s chill subsides and the air begins to warm up. They require stable temperatures, with an ideal range of around 55 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. If the soil gets too warm, they will no longer produce any more fruiting bodies for the season. 

As saprophytic fungi, morels only grow in soil rich in organic matter that they can decompose for nutrients. They form symbiotic relationships with specific hardwood trees like elm, oak, ash, apple, and maple, growing along their root systems and feeding off fallen wood and leaf litter. Morels are often found in areas that have been disturbed by natural events like floods or wildfires, as these spaces provide more nutrients and open spaces for them to thrive. 

Moisture and pH also play a significant role in morel development as they grow in slightly alkaline soil with a pH from 7 to 8 that is slightly moist but well-drained.

Like many mushrooms, morels are incredibly sensitive to environmental changes, which directly affect their growth cycle and fruiting patterns. Changes in rainfall patterns, for example, could either lead to a bountiful morel season or a scarce one. An early, warm summer can also shorten the season since morels are so sensitive to temperatures. 

As climate change continues to progress, foragers from all around the world are becoming increasingly concerned about how these factors may affect the future of morel harvesting. Shifts in the climate are not only detrimental to morel distribution but also to the very ecosystems that support their growth. Regions that have historically been rich with morels could see a decline over the years if the patterns of temperature and precipitation move beyond the narrow window that morels require.

Global decline of morel mushrooms

Several countries have noticed a growing decline in morel populations compared to past harvests, highlighting a global unease about the future availability of these prized fungi. 

In India, particularly in the Himalayan region, the situation has become alarming. Traditional foragers who have been accustomed to finding an abundance every season have reported substantially reduced yields of morel mushrooms. 

“When we were young, we would go to the garden looking for morels. And we would find lots of them. At times even 30-40. But I went looking for it this year, and I could not find even one,” says forager Ranvinder Thakur in an interview with Times of India

Similarly, the Himalayan regions of Pakistan have expressed a similar trend. Morels are just not growing like they used to. Professor Juma Muhammad, who leads the Department of Environmental Science at Shaheed Benazir Bhutto University in Dir, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, has dedicated over ten years to studying morel mushrooms. Based on these troubling trends, he believes that if the climate conditions continue to change at such a rapid rate, it could lead to the complete disappearance of morels in the region.

“The situation is worse than we thought,” Muhammad tells The Third Pole. “I know many spots in Swat where the morel used to grow, but in the last 3-4 years they have completely disappeared.”

The Himalayas have one of the highest rates of warming temperatures, making it one of the most sensitive global hotspots to climate change. These rapid changes are exacerbating the vulnerability of morel habitats, with significant implications for biodiversity and for the local communities reliant on them for culture and economy. 

Preserving morel populations in America

Unfortunately, the decline of morels is not unique to the Himalayas but indicative of a more widespread trend. 

In America, diminishing numbers of morels have also been a topic of concern amongst scientists and foragers. The rich tradition of morel foraging in the U.S. may soon face similar consequences as Himalayan regions as environmental conditions continue to alter due to progressions in climate change.

Several anecdotal reports have indicated a noticeable reduction of morel populations across various states. For instance, the U.S. Mid-Atlantic region, known for its rich morel habitats, has seen a noticeable decrease in the fungi, according to local foragers. 

“We used to find them by the dishpan full, but not now,” said Betty Calimer, 75, who began picking morel mushrooms in the western Maryland woods as a child.

The lack of comprehensive data on yearly morel populations complicates efforts to fully understand the scope of this decline. 

In order to bridge this gap in knowledge, multiple studies have utilized local ecological knowledge to understand why morel numbers seem to have reduced. Notably, a four-year study led by researchers from the U.S. Forest Service and Rutgers University received $97,000 from the National Park Service to determine how to sustain future morel harvests (1). After conducting interviews with foragers and integrating their observations with environmental data, the researchers uncovered specific patterns and causes behind the changes in morel populations. According to the participants, shifts in weather due to climate change appear to be one of the biggest threats to morels. Over the last three decades, the mean temperatures for winter and spring in Maryland have increased by nearly one degree Fahrenheit, and winter precipitation has gone down by 0.44 inches per decade since 1970. While these changes may appear minimal, they can greatly impact the strict requirements needed for morel growth.

Habitat loss was another concern for participants, as the counties they were from had experienced rapid population growth, leading to the loss of woodlands and apple orchards. 

Many participants also noted that over-harvesting could be a factor since increased competition has led to more morel foragers than in the past. Research has found that recreational morel harvesting can be sustainable in most contexts, and long-term harvesting does not impact future yields (2). However, an influx of foragers could result in trampled soil and a reduction of spores, which could potentially affect the delicate ecological balance necessary for morel regeneration.

Although more research is needed to fully understand the sudden drop of morel mushrooms around the world, not all hope is lost for this delicious fungi. Conservation efforts are critical to maintain the stability of morel populations. These strategies should not only focus on the symptoms of morel decline but also the root causes. The collaboration between mycologists and foragers can help strengthen scientific knowledge of morel ecology to ensure the survival of these mushrooms for future generations to enjoy.


  1. Egli, Simon, Martina Peter, Christoph Buser, Werner Stahel, and François Ayer. 2006. “Mushroom Picking Does Not Impair Future Harvests – Results of a Long-Term Study in Switzerland.” Biological Conservation 129 (2): 271–76. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2005.10.042.
  2. Freire Filho, Robério, Thieres Pinto, and Bruna Martins Bezerra. 2018. “Using Local Ecological Knowledge to Access the Distribution of the Endangered Caatinga Howler Monkey (Alouatta Ululata).” Ethnobiology and Conservation, August. https://doi.org/10.15451/ec2018-08-7.10-1-22.


Seraiah Alexander

Seraiah Alexander

Content Editor

Table Of Contents

The fragile nature of morels
Global decline of morel mushrooms
Preserving morel populations in America

Related Posts

Psychedelics May Help Treat Chronic Pain, According to Recent Study
September 27, 2023
5 min

Our TeamAbout Us