Mycoremediation & Restoration 101
Fungi are everywhere, constantly maintaining and healing the habitats of the world through their unique abilities to disassemble, move, and create nutrients above and below the soil horizon. Today humans are finally beginning to recognize many ways by which we can apply these fungal abilities to managed landscape and habitat regeneration projects. Currently, these practices can be split into two overlapping groups.
In habitats that have been disturbed by erosion, deforestation, wild fire, or other natural or human-caused disasters, fungi can be integrated into revegetation strategies to build and stabilize soil and, if needed, speed up decomposition to increase nutrient cycling rates. Example strategies include:
- Cultivating, amplifying, and inoculating plant roots with native mycorrhizal fungi to support plant health, reduce erosion, increase water retention, improve soil structure, and the overall ecology.
- Cultivating, amplifying, and inoculating organic matter with native decomposing fungi to decrease fire hazards and create topsoil in deforested or eroded areas. This will also lead to the increase in fungal species diversity while providing fodder for animals and insects.
In areas affected by chemical, elemental, and biological contaminants, fungi can be applied to reduce these toxins, potentially to non-toxic concentrations. Example mycoremediation strategies include:
- Cultivating, amplifying, and inoculating soils with native mycorrhizal fungi to bind up or draw out heavy metals, such as arsenic, mercury, lead, radioactive cesium, and copper. Many ectomycorrhizal fungi have been shown to channel toxic heavy metals out of the soil and concentrate them into their fruit bodies.
- Introducing mycelial networks into water systems to filter out silt and biological contaminants or bind heavy metals.
- Cultivating, amplifying, and inoculating chemically-contaminated organic matter with decomposing fungi known to degrade the target compounds. A wide number of fungi (including molds, yeasts, descomposing fungi, and mycorrhizal species) host the ability to degrade many industrial waste products and chemical pollutants, including herbicides, petroleum fuels, dioxins, DDT, TNT, PCBs, chemical dyes, PAHs, and more. The fungi essentially use their natural digestive abilities to oxidize and degrade the compounds, transforming them into simpler byproducts.
Species to Know
Some of the best-studied remediative mushrooms include:
- Irpex lacteus
- Pearl Oyster (Pleurotus ostreatus)
- Pestalotiopsis microspora
- Phanerochaete chrysosporium
- Shiitake (Lentinula edodes)
- Smoky Polypore (Bjerkandera adjusta)
- Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor)
Cultivating Mushrooms for Mycoremediation
Most of the above species are wood-loving species that can be cultivated with the same techniques used for growing edible and medicinal mushrooms. For details on these techniques check out our zine and video on one low-cost and effective protocol for cultivating large quantities of mycelium.