It is a great pleasure for the Species Survival Commission of IUCN (the International Union for Conservation of Nature) to introduce this noteworthy ebook about Pleurotus nebrodensis, edited by M.-L. Gargano, G. I. Zervakis and G. Venturella for several reasons.
Firstly, the Fungi Kingdom was, until now, largely underrepresented in the conservation world. Fortunately, this situation seems to have improved gradually, as shown, for instance, by the recent creation of four fungi specialist groups within IUCN SSC (five if we also consider the Lichens specialist group). As a first result, the knowledge on the conservation status of several mushrooms is now better known in proportion to their assessments with the IUCN Red List criteria. There are of course still many things to do in order to better insure their conservation, but the mycologists' voice has begun to be heard.
Secondly, because this ebook is an exceptional blend of different approaches focused on one species conservation. Many examples show that conservation measures for a species are successful only if all factors influencing its habitat and life are studied and taken into account, including of course the social and economics ones, which are unfortunately too often neglected. And this has been particularly well understood by Prof. Venturella and his team, who have not only tirelessly studied this species and its environment - sensu lato - since many years, but have also planned very detailed cultivation methods in order to alleviate the pressure on Pleurotus nebrodensis by its over collection in the wild. IUCN's long experience in conservation throughout the world demonstrates that the most successful stories are the ones that benefit the local communities. And this is precisely the case in the Pleurotus conservation strategy.
This makes us very confident in the long term sustainable management of this mushroom. Finally, because this story owes its origin to in Sicily, a region deeply attached to its cultural and natural heritage, for thousands of years, nature in Sicily has been shaped by people who have known how to use sustainably its natural resources. Even if this is less the case today, due to the intensive agriculture, the infrastructures, the urbanization and the development of mass tourism, Sicilians are still close to their nature and ready to conserve and value it.
We hope that, in the near future, the threat category of Pleurotus nebrodensis, which is currently CR (Critically Endangered), will decrease due to the conservation measures implemented and expect that this success story will be an example for other threatened fungi and plants.
Bertrand de Montmollin
IUCN - Species Survival Commission
A progressive decrease in the levels of biodiversity within ecosystems characterizes the ongoing scenario for our planet.
Politicians, academics, networks, media and organizations dealing with the conservation of nature primarily directed their attention to cases of threatened animals and plants at risk of extinction. All these organisms have a strong impact on public opinion because of their physical size, notable presence and/or distribution.
It is therefore more difficult to raise the level of public attention to seemingly “lower” organisms such as fungi.
The problem that I encountered about twenty years ago when I started to study Pleurotus nebrodensis was: How a mushroom unknown to the vast majority of people could be put under the spotlight of public opinion?
Back in 1863, Giuseppe Inzenga had experienced a similar problem when he began to observe and describe a white Pleurotus mushroom, since he could not explain how “a species so easily distinguishable from the others would have missed the eye of skilled botanists of that time”.
Inzenga understood that the fungus could be a different species from those already described in literature and this was confirmed when Elias Fries provided his authoritative opinion.
After Inzenga’s death (1887) and up until 1995, no researcher could effectively deal with the species described by Inzenga under the binomial Agaricus nebrodensis Nobis [current name Pleurotus nebrodensis (Inzenga) Quél.]. In the meantime, the nomenclatural status of this taxon has undergone various changes ranging between synonyms and placements in the rank of “variety” or “subspecies” of Pleurotus eryngii (DC.) Quél.
The efforts made in recent years by the undersigned and his collaborators to gather information useful for the preparation of a dossier to be submitted to IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) have delivered in the year 2005 a prestigious goal, i.e. the inclusion of P. nebrodensis in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and the Top 50 Mediterranean Island Plants. The scientific community has spent much time before confirming that P. nebrodensis is a species at risk of extinction, while since 1600, the Sicilian population enjoyed the excellent organoleptic qualities of these mushrooms which gained a high commercial value.
Known locally as “fungo di basilisco”, derived from vernacular name of the plant on the roots of which the fungus is fruiting, P. nebrodensis is still today an important source of income particularly for the community of Madonie Mts (Northern Sicily).
Unfortunately, the overexploitation and the consequent excessive human pressure on the habitats of growth, stimulated by the high sale price of around 50 euro per kilo, led to a high risk of extinction for the fungus.
There are still some elements missing, in the long process of assembling the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle for the final construction of a “protection shield” for P. nebrodensis, such as a greater awareness of the value of this natural resource and more effective in situ and ex situ conservation actions.
Besides, there is also a need to improve the process of mushroom cultivation in order to allow the market to lower prices which would subsequently alleviate part of the human pressure exerted on natural habitats of P. nebrodensis growth.
This e-book is yet another opportunity to disseminate the history and the quality of Pleurotus nebrodensis to a wide range of readers in order to ensure that the original vision of Giuseppe Inzenga would result in an opportunity for future generations to adopt this beautiful mushroom and conserve its wild populations, while rural communities would benefit by obtaining an additional income from a natural resource in a sustainable manner.
Department of Agricultural and Forest Science
Università di Palermo
viale delle Scienze 11
List of Contributors
Maria L. Gargano
Università di Palermo
Georgios I. Zervakis
Agricultural University of Athens
Università di Palermo