Resource Use and Resource Economy

Mushrooms in the Mountains: Assessing the Role of Fungi on the Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EbA) Practices in Nepal Himalaya

  • DEVKOTA Shiva , 1, 2, * ,
  • SHRESTHA Uttam Babu 1 ,
  • POUDEL Sanjeev 1 ,
  • CHAUDHARY Ram Prasad 3
  • 1. Global Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies, Kathmandu 3084, Nepal
  • 2. Himalayan Climate & Science Institute, Washington DC 20007, USA
  • 3. Research Centre for Applied Science and Technology, Tribhuvan University, Kirtipur 1030, Nepal
* DEVKOTA Shiva, E-mail:

Received date: 2021-05-13

  Accepted date: 2021-11-04

  Online published: 2022-10-12

Supported by

The Global Biodiversity Information Facility/Biodiversity Fund for Asia(BIFA5_023 to SD)

The Rufford Foundation(25337-1 to SD)

The National Geographic Society(NGS-62058R-19 to UBS)


To achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), thereby meet the post 2020 global biodiversity targets and increase resilience to climate change, nature-based approaches such as ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA) is suggested as a promising and integrated adaptation strategy. EbA comprises adaptation strategies that value the role of ecosystems in reducing social vulnerability to climate change. Among the different biological groups on earth, fungi play not only an important role to maintain the biogeochemical cycle/nutrient cycle in ecosystems (supporting and regulating services), but also contribute to the socio-economic and cultural benefits of societies (provisioning and cultural services). Here, we present our knowledge and scientific understanding on how these neglected groups of biodiversity-fungi are crucial for ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA) approach based on our field experience, review and associated expertise on caterpillar fungus (Ophiocordyceps sinensis), and other wild mushrooms found in Nepal. Several species of fungi are used by local communities as food, medicines, and environmental income. Fungi are important sources of household income for mountain communities in Nepal providing a cushion during shocks and disasters and supporting food security, health care, education and building shelter. For the holistic EbA approach, it is essential to strengthen local institutions as well as indigenous local knowledge which could be an important policy intervention for the identification, conservation, and sustainable management of ecologically, socially and economically useful fungal species.

Cite this article

DEVKOTA Shiva , SHRESTHA Uttam Babu , POUDEL Sanjeev , CHAUDHARY Ram Prasad . Mushrooms in the Mountains: Assessing the Role of Fungi on the Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EbA) Practices in Nepal Himalaya[J]. Journal of Resources and Ecology, 2022 , 13(6) : 1030 -1036 . DOI: 10.5814/j.issn.1674-764x.2022.06.008

1 Introduction

Developing countries suffer disproportionately from the global environmental and climate changes (Hallegatte, 2016). Nepal, ranked 12th in the global climate risk index 2021, is highly vulnerable to the impacts of such changes (Eckstein et al., 2020). The change in the precipitation pattern and climate-induced landslides, flood, drought, forest fires are some hazards that have been observed frequently in Nepal (GoN/MoFE, 2018). In Nepal, various disasters have caused the deaths of approximately 19009 people and physical losses totaling US $ 6.09 billion between 1990 and 2019 (EM-DAT, 2019; UNDDR, 2020). From 1970 to 2019, Nepal has experienced 2488 fatal landslides killing 3212 people (MoHA, 2019). The major flooding event in 2017 inundated 80% of the Tarai region, causing US$ 584.7 million in damages (NPC, 2015). Floods and landslides in 2021 (till October 31, 2021) caused 307 deaths and damaged major infrastructures such as water supply infrastructure to the capital city, hydroelectric dams, agricultural crops (MoHA, 2021). As global climate is predicted to worsen with greenhouse gases emissions, ecosystem degradation and unprecedented population growth and economic development (IPCC, 2018, 2021) the impact of future climate change in a country like Nepal will be severe (GoN, 2019). Thus, different approaches of climate change adaptation (CCA) including ecosystem-based adaptation are essential protective measures towards resilient society.
Societies and communities take advantage of the natural resilience of ecosystems to adapt to climate change and help to address societal challenges (Seddon et al., 2019). Ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA) that involves a wide range of ecosystem management activities is the sustainable use of biodiversity and ecosystem services as part of a climate change adaptation strategy (Mustafa et al., 2019). EbA is one of the most acknowledged, cost-effective and ‘no regret' approach that is replicable at community level even by mountain communities (Colls et al., 2009). Prone to climate change vulnerability, ongoing depletion of ecosystem services, and socio-economic development challenges in mountain systems, EbA is a highly relevant nature-based solution in mountains than in other systems (Reid and Adhikari, 2018). The idea behind EbA is to understand such three challenges that are interconnected, and they should be addressed in an integrated and holistic manner although EbA is relatively poorly implemented in practice (Wolf et al., 2021). Institutional settings (both locally and globally), political decision-making, their interest and implementation are necessary to shorten this implementation gap (UN Water, 2018).
As EbA is a planned adaptation approach, and this includes management, conservation, and restoration of ecosystems (UNFCCC, 2010). Ecosystems provide various ecosystem services that fulfill social needs, provide cushion during shocks (e.g., COVID-19 pandemic) and disasters and reduction of these services impacts negatively to the social well-being (Locatelli et al., 2011). Therefore, ecosystem services are crucial for reducing vulnerability to climate change. Together with several species in nature, fungi contribute to ecosystem services (Provisioning / Regulating / Supporting / Cultural / Ecosystem goods) and could be utilized as agents of environmental management (Donnini et al., 2013; Heilmann-Clausen et al., 2015; Dighton, 2016). They are a crucial element for the well-being of several creatures including humans though they are still underrepresented in academic research, conservation planning, global and regional assessments, and decision-making processes (Chaudhary et al., 2020). Several species of fungi are used for foods and medicines and are collected by indigenous peoples and local communities (IPLCs) in Nepal by using their indigenous local knowledge (ILK) (Devkota, 2006; Pandey et al., 2007; Christensen et al., 2008; Adhikari and Adhikari, 2011; Devkota and Aryal, 2020), refer Table 1.
Table 1 Highly praised fungal species for their food, medicinal and cultural values in Nepal
Provisioning (Food) Provisioning (Medicinal) Cultural (Spiritual and recreational)
Amanita caesarea (Scop.) Pers. Calvatia gigantea (Batsch) Lloyd Schizophyllum commune Fr.
A. chepangiana Tulloss & Bhandary Daldinia concentrica (Bolton) Ces. & De Not Stereum ostrea (Blume & T. Nees) Fr.
Cantharellus cibarius Fr. Ganoderma lucidum (Curtis) P. Karst. S. sanguinolentum (Alb. & Schwein.) Fr.
Flammulina velutipes (Curtis) Singer Lycoperdon spp. S. striatum (Fr.) Fr.
Gomphus clavatus (Pers.) Gray Ophiocordyceps sinensis (Berk.) G.H. Sung, J.M. Sung, Hywel-Jones & Spatafora
Grifola frondosa (Dicks.) Gray Pycnoporus cinnabarinus (Jacq.) P. Karst.
Helvella crispa Sowerby
Hericium erinaceus (Bull.) Pers.
Hydnum repandum L
Laccaria laccata (Scop.) Cooke
Lactarius thakalorum Bills & Cotter
Lactifluus volemus (Fr.) Kuntze
Laetiporus sulphureus (Bull.) Murrill
Lentinula edodes (Berk.) Pegler
Macrolepiota albuminosa (Berk.) Pegler
Morchella conica Pers.
Ophiocordyceps sinensis (Berk.) G.H. Sung, J.M. Sung, Hywel-Jones & Spatafora
Pleurotus ostreatus (Jacq.) P. Kumm
Ramaria botrytis (Pers.) Bourdot
Russula chloroides (Krombh.) Bres.
R. delica Fr.
Scleroderma citrinum Pers.
S. texense Berk.
Suillus americanus (Peck) Snell
Termitomyces microcarpus (Berk. & Broome) R. Heim
T. clypeatus R. Heim
T. eurrhizus (Berk.) R. Heim
Tricholoma terreum (Schaeff.) P. Kumm
Among these fungal resources, caterpillar fungus (Ophiocordyceps sinensis-Yarsagumba in Nepali) provides a significant amount of household income, community support and contribute to the national economy (Shrestha and Bawa, 2013). In some areas of western Nepal, up to 65% of household income is sourced from caterpillar fungus collection (Shrestha et al., 2017), in Dolpa 53.3% (Shrestha and Bawa, 2014a) recent field study in Maikot, eastern Rukum, Nepal in 2020 shows an average of 80% of household income (Poudel, 2020a). The income of caterpillar fungus also supports food security, health care, education and building shelter (Shrestha and Bawa, 2014b). The collector's expenses pattern shows that they prioritize loan repayment followed by foods and essentials purchase. In terms of investment, their major investment is on child education and health expenses (Poudel, 2020b). Therefore, caterpillar fungus is an important safety net to the mountain population in Nepal (Fig. 1) and support rural people during the livelihood shocks; even though the collection ban of caterpillar fungus during the COVID-19 pandemic 2020 was in effect, the collectors relied on the previous year's income (Prasain, 2020; Poudel, 2020b).
Fig. 1 Household income contribution derived from caterpillar fungus in different districts of Nepal

Note: Sources: Darchula (Karki et al., 2020); Jumla (Shrestha et al., 2019); Dolpa (Shrestha and Bawa, 2014a); Eastern Rukum (Poudel, 2020a); Sankhuwasabha (Gaire, 2019).

Despite the importance of caterpillar fungus and other mushrooms such as morels (Morchella spp.) and Ganoderma (Ganoderma spp.) on people's livelihood, fungal species are under tremendous pressure due to climate change and over harvesting (Kauserud et al., 2012; Hopping et al., 2018). Studies in Nepal and other parts of the world showed that the fungus population has declined (Shrestha and Bawa, 2015; Hopping et al., 2018; Wei et al., 2021). The decline of population means a decline in collection hence reduced income which ultimately impacts their livelihoods, food security and supplement income during the time of crisis and shocks, for example, COVID-19 pandemic. During this pandemic, communities residing in rural settings of Nepal have intensively collected wild mushrooms for their subsistence living. Similarly, during the COVID-19 lockdown more intense collections of Amanita chepangiana—an edible mushroom that is named after the local indigenous Chepang community in Chitwan District, central Nepal was observed (Shiva Devkota, pers. obs.). Roughly, increasing numbers of mushrooms poisoning cases in Nepal can be correlated with their mushrooms collections and consumption intensities. Therefore, we argue that conservation and sustainable use/management of fungi is crucial to sustaining its role for the well-being of the local people and sustaining fungus can be an approach for ecosystem-based adaptation in the mountain regions of Nepal.

2 Climate change—fungi and adaptation nexus

The magnitude of the rise of temperature mainly in high latitudes is greater than average, with rapid changes in boreal (subarctic) and the Arctic ecosystems (IPCC, 2013). In the Himalaya, the rate of increase in temperature is three times higher than the global average (Shrestha et al., 2012). Climatic changes will affect the distribution and evolution of fungal species in different ecological systems along with their ability for adaptation and migration (Alday et al.,2017; Bidartondo et al., 2018). Earlier findings have shown that their reproduction and physiology have changed in the last couple of years because of climatic effects on their growth and on their habitats though they dwell in all types of habitats including extremes (Andrew et al., 2019). As fungi play irreplaceable roles in terrestrial decomposition, nutrient cycling, nutrient uptake, and provide a diet of many microbes and animals, their diversity and distributional changes resulting from climate change have significant effects on ecosystem functioning (Bidartondo et al., 2018). Using mushroom for human nutrition to boost the availability of protein nutrition, natural immune response system, and incomes constitutes as of the important climate change coping strategies (UNDP, 2015).
Due to fungi uncommon adaptability, they not only simply adapt and colonize in new extreme and stressful environments created by anthropogenic activities but also actively reproduce (Selbmann et al., 2013). For mushrooms (mainly basidiomycete/macrofungi), long term datasets available from Europe, Japan and the USA show timing or production of spore-bearing structure has been impacted by climate change mainly because of temperature and rainfall (Andrew et al., 2019). Fungi with such adapting behavior to the extremes may be a valuable attribute for the biotechnological potential and production of metabolites, extremozymes or in bioremediations programs and societies may be benefitted from this (Adenipekun and Lawal, 2012; Selbmann et al., 2013). Furthermore, many unresolved questions relating to fungi - climate change - adaptation are still unknown and a large knowledge gap exists.

3 Fungal diversity—understudied taxa in Nepal

Fungi are distinct and highly diverse organisms on the planet with their intriguing physiology, morphological features, and ecological/economic importance. Nevertheless, scientific studies of fungi are still negligible compared with higher plants and animals on global, regional, and local scales. For example, in the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) database, fungi are a comparatively less represented group as compared to plants and animals. According to the most recent figure, GBIF data have more than 1 billion records of animals and about 282 million records of Plantae but only about 24 million records of fungi ( However, the diversity of fungi (both in the number of species described and the number of estimated species) is much higher than plants and animals. Globally, the fungi diversity which exceeds that of a land plant is estimated at around 2.2-3.8 million species (Hawksworth and Lucking, 2017). The situation is further dismal in developing countries including Nepal.
Nepal occupies a distinctive geomorphological position in the Himalayas lying at a transition zone of six floristic regions (Welk, 2016) and lies in one of the 36 global biodiversity hotspots (Noss et al., 2015). The country occupies 44.74% forest area (DFRS, 2015); 23.39% under protected areas within 20 protected areas system including 12 National Parks, one Wildlife Reserve, one Hunting Reserve, six Conservation Areas, and 13 Buffer Zones (DNPWC, 2018). Having such a wealth of biodiversity and associated cultural diversity, the most updated status of the biodiversity of Nepal is not well understood. Nepal's species diversity is disproportionally reported: comprising 17097 animal species, 13067 plant species, only 2467 fungi and 792 lichen species (GoN/MoFE, 2018). According to the recently updated data wild mushrooms of Nepal belong to 108 families, 357 genera, and 1291 species (Ascomycota 165 species and Basidiomycota 1126 species) with 34 endemic species (Devkota and Aryal, 2020). This indicated that a large proportion of lower taxonomic groups especially mushrooms and lichens are still unexplored, as compared with higher groups of plants and animals.

4 Science-policy nexus of fungi

Nepal is one of the 196 contracting parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and other international conventions, treaties related to biodiversity and global changes. The country has committed and significantly contributed to the conservation of biodiversity by enforcing several acts, regulations, policies, and laws related to the biodiversity sector in Nepal. After the inception of the Forest Act in 1993 and Forest Regulations in 1995 to protect biological resources, Nepal Government has identified wild mushrooms and lichens together with other species of Non-Timber Forest Products (NTFPs), as potential NTFPs, where the government may impose a ban on the collection, use, sale, distribution, and export of any species suspected threatened without any justification (GoN/MoFSC, 1995, 2015). Despite some additional efforts made by the Government of Nepal including fungi in the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan 2014-2020 and prioritizing 30 plants including two mushrooms (Morchella spp. and Ophiocordyceps sinensis) and Lichens (in general) for the research and management, research works on mushrooms and lichens are still far more behind or overshadowed (DPR/MoFSC, 2006). Ganoderma lucidium, Grifola frondosa, Laetiporus sulphureus, morels (Morchella spp.), Ophiocordyceps sinensis, and Termitomyces species are a few important biological resources for mountain communities that can support household income as well as contribute to national economy.
The Government of Nepal has also taken initiatives to conserve threatened plants, animals, and fungi (PAF) species by declaring them as protected species. IUCN Red List from Nepal seems taxonomically biased towards iconic species like mammals, birds, plants. There are only two lichen species (Everniastrum nepalense and Phaeophyscia hispidula) assessed for IUCN Red List and assigned Least Concern (LC) (Devkota and Aryal, 2020). Before embarking on any fungal conservation initiative, it is necessary to know the current level of understanding and awareness of fungi that play crucial role in EbA among the policymakers, local institutions, and inhabitants. Policies such as Forest Act, 2076 (GoN-MoFE, 2019a); National Forest Policy 2075 (GoN-MoFE, 2019b); Herbal and Non-Timber Forest Development Policy, 2061 (MoFSC, 2004) address issues and challenges related to biodiversity conservation in general but fail to incorporate fungal resources for conservation.

5 Fungi and EbA

World Economic Forum (2019) has ranked the failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation in the top five global risks in terms of impact since 2015. Even in Nepal, it is well realized that federal-level policies and local level planning are inadequate to address the vulnerability and fragility of habitats and ecosystems even in the newly formed federal government system of Nepal (Chaudhary et al., 2020). Nature/ecosystem-based approach integrating all life forms (plants, animals, and fungi), and people-centered solutions and interventions could also help to restore ecosystems and promote indigenous peoples and local communities (IPLCs) adapt to the adverse effects of climate change (GoN-MoFE, 2019c). Fungi provide bundles of adaptation options that not only help to maintain ecosystem function but also to support income diversification during the time of shocks and disasters. Some economically important fungi support rural livelihoods during the normal time hence build community adaptive capacity. EbA is becoming a quite popular term mainly in developed countries where dependence on natural resources for lives and livelihoods is high (Reid et al., 2019). In this regard, EbA approaches - finding important (from both ecologically and socio-economically important ones), fungal species at the landscape level, developing their sustainable harvesting guidelines and management plans and building the resilience of the communities and ecosystems health must be enforced. For this, fungi should be sufficiently mainstreamed into the national and international research and policy priorities and processes.


The first author (SD) acknowledges the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) for providing financial support to attend the “Regional experts” symposium on ecosystem-based adaptation in the Hindu Kush Himalaya (Chenngdu, China, Dec 17-19, 2019) and bring EbA knowledge on understudied fungi in this form. Dr. Sunita Chaudhary and Ms. Erica Udas from ICIMOD are highly acknowledged for their cooperation and support.
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