Zeljko_Zgrablic

Mycorrhiza control and truffle plantation management: capacity building for greener rural development

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Željko Zgrablić has been working from 2010 to present at the Croatian Forest Research Institute, Centre for Forest Ecosystem Goods & Services. Željko defended his PhD thesis in 2015 at the Faculty of Forestry, University of Zagreb. His scientific focus is related to fungal ecology & biodiversity, non-wood forest products & sustainable truffle management.

Željko Zgrablić (Croatian Forest Research Institute) will be hosted by Christine Fischer (Forest Science Center of Catalonia - CTFC).

Truffles are wild forest products, highly prized in gastronomy all over the world. The demand for different truffle species is increasing every year, but production has declined strongly, especially during the last centuries, probably as a result of climate changes and land abandonment in rural areas. As a consequence of previously described factors, several truffle species are grown in controlled plantations. Among those, the Perigord black truffle ( Tuber melanosporum) accounts for more than 90% of all truffle plantations. They play a very important role in rural areas of western Mediterranean where a change in land use and land abandonment is in progress. Truffle plantations contribute to biodiversity increase, soil preservation, fire protection, landscape value and overall, to development of rural areas. As an agroforestry system, they contribute to rural area resilience under a global climate change and decrease the pressure on natural truffle habitats, ensuring the sustainable use of wild forest products, in this particular case, the truffles. Aside from Europe, production of black truffles has recently expanded on all continents, with Australia becoming a significant producer in recent years despite relatively unfavourable ecological conditions.

Vast areas of the eastern Mediterranean are favourable for black truffle production, but production still remains undeveloped. Land abandonment and changes in land use are also in progress, with wildfires becoming another negative factor as a consequence. There are two major reasons why a trufficulture has not make a breakthrough in this part of Europe: (i) the countries in the region have not committed their strategies and legal regulation to allow truffle farming; and (ii) there is an existing large knowledge gap between the experts, potential end users, and other important stakeholders.

Black truffle plantations can be very productive if they are managed properly. It is therefore clear how important is the role of proper plantation management. It requires the knowledge of different maintenance methods and a high quality plant material to start the plantations. Truffle-inoculated seedlings present on the market of western Europe are regularly controlled and evaluated to certify the quality of the product. There are different control methods and standards among the countries and regions. In Spain, the Method for Evaluating Truffle-Inoculated Nursery Seedlings developed by Fisher and Colinas in 1996 (revised 2014), is one of the most reliable tools to estimate the quality of inoculated seedlings, based on combined microscopic and molecular techniques. Furthermore, the trufficulture in Spain has a respected tradition and experience.

Considering the above mentioned facts, the main goal of this short scientific visit is to build up the capacity of the young researcher and help to bridge the existing gap of knowledge towards end users, experts and different stakeholders, by learning new techniques not available at the home institution. Beyond this, the new opportunity contribute to the cooperation between the institutions, stakeholders and experts at a European level.