Post-fire morel (Morchella) mushroom abundance, spatial structure, and harvest sustainability

Andrew J. Larson, C. Alina Cansler, Seth G. Cowdery, Sienna Hiebert, Tucker J. Furniss, Mark E. Swanson, James A. Lutz

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45 Scopus citations


Morel mushrooms are globally distributed, socially and economically important reproductive structures produced by fungi of the genus Morchella. Morels are highly prized edible mushrooms and significant harvests are collected throughout their range, especially in the first year after fire, when some morel species fruit prolifically. Few studies have quantified post-fire morel mushroom abundance, despite their widespread human use. The purpose of this study is to provide the first ever estimate of post-fire morel mushroom abundance in Sierra Nevada mixed-conifer forest. Specifically, we estimate the abundance and spatial variability of morel mushrooms across an intensively mapped and measured forest research site during the first growing season following fire. We conducted this study in the Yosemite Forest Dynamics Plot, a long-term forest research installation located in old-growth mixed-conifer forest of Yosemite National Park, California, USA. We surveyed for morel mushrooms in n = 1119 contiguous circular 3.14 m2 plots arranged along 2240 m of permanently marked, georeferenced transects. We characterized the spatial correlation of morel plots using k category (multicolor) join count statistics. We analyzed spatial correlations at interplot distances up to 9.0 m. There were 595 morel mushrooms in the 1119 plots we measured. Mushrooms occurred in 17.8% of plots. We estimated a mean standing crop of 1693 morels ha−1 (SE = 155.4 morels ha−1). Morel-occupied plots were strongly and significantly spatially autocorrelated. Most of the spatial correlation among morel-occupied plots was apparent at scales up to 7.0 m, and was strongest at scales <3.0 m. This study is one of only four that provide unbiased estimates of post-fire morel abundance. Our morel abundance estimates are generally consistent with prior work in high-latitude North American conifer forests. The strong spatial autocorrelation of morel-occupied microsites at scales <7 m indicates that key factors controlling post-fire morel productivity are heterogeneous at small spatial scales. We propose a simple conceptual model to explain this spatial structure that includes spatial variability of pre-fire Morchella colonies; pre-fire vegetation community and fuelbed; fire behavior, intensity, and effects; and soil moisture and temperature. Relatively liberal harvest limits for recreational and subsistence harvesters appear appropriate and sustainable, at least for coniferous forests in the first year following fire. However, intensive commercial harvest, in jurisdictions where it is allowed, may warrant monitoring to assess potential impacts to long-term morel productivity, conflict with recreational harvesters, and non-target effects.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)16-25
Number of pages10
JournalForest Ecology and Management
StatePublished - Oct 1 2016


  • Mixed-severity fire
  • Morchella
  • Non-timber forest products
  • Rim Fire
  • Sierra Nevada
  • Wildcrafting
  • Yosemite Forest Dynamics Plot
  • Yosemite National Park


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