Tricholoma matsutake belongs to the Tricholoma caligatum complex that contains at least 9-10 species worldwide (Chapela and Garbelotto 2004). Tricholoma matsutake is one of the world's most famous and expensive edible mushrooms, and is especially appreciated in Japan. The species forms mycorrhiza mainly with Pinus spp. In Europe, the species is associated with dry, often lichen-dominated, sandy (or shallow) soil, in Pinus sylvestris forests; and in East Asia it is associated with related types of dry Pinus forests. The pine forests that house T. matsutake have undergone a considerable decline during the past decades, due to (i) pine forest diseases in East Asia, (ii) deforestation e.g. in south-west China, (iii) eutrophication/heavy N-deposition and loss of areas in large parts of Europe, and (iii) reduced habitat quality of remaining forests due to intensive forestry with clear-cutting (e.g. northern Europe) (Brandrud and Bendiksen 2014). Tricholoma matsutake is red-listed in most countries where it occurs in Europe. It is also proposed as threatened on a national red-list of Russia (in prep; T. Svetasheva, pers. comm.). It is globally Red Listed as Vulnerable due to an inferred decline of >30% during an evaluation period of 50 years, caused by a >30% decline in habitat quality and quantity (pine forest area) due to pine forest diseases, and altered land-use. Furthermore, the T. matsutake subpopulations of Japan may also have declined due to collection, in particular as a result of removing litter and soil to collect young specimens/ buttons. Such impacts also are likely to be occurring in other areas of heavy collection. For further references on the decline of the species and its habitats, see Brandrud and Bendiksen (2014).
Matsutake has a wide distribution in north/central Europe and Asia including Russia (Brandrud and Bendiksen 2014, Christensen and Heilmann-Clausen 2013). Formerly, it seems that Japan, the Korean Peninsula and China housed the major subpopulations. However, due to severe declines in suitable habitats in this region, the subpopulations in the northern boreal zone of northern Fennoscandia and Russia might now be of a similar size to the East Asian subpopulations. A potential paler variant of the species occurs in eastern North America. This is genetically very close or conspecific with the Eurasian taxon (see Chapela and Garbelotto 2004, Gulden et al. 2013, Voitk 2013) (whereas the western North American subpopulations of the American Matsutake/White Matsutake clearly belong to another species, Tricholoma magnivelaris). The taxonomic position of the “Pale Matsutake” from eastern North America should be further clarified.
Matsutake is currently known from ca. 350-400 localities in Fennoscandia (73 localities in Norway, approximately 150 in Sweden according to species databases, and probably about the same also in Finland). The real number may be 10 times higher, such that there could be ca. 3,500-4,000 localities/sites in Fennoscandia, and possibly 5,000 if Russia is included. The species is apparently rare but widespread in different parts of Russia, known at present from approximately 20 localities (T. Svetasheva, pers. comm.). Tricholoma matsutake also occurs, but is very rare, in central Europe. In Bavaria, for instance the species is regarded as threatened, and has not been found since 1990; there have been no definite finds in Switzerland; there one locality in Austria; and there are some localities reported from the Czech Republic, but the exact status is uncertain due to confusion with related taxa such as the spruce associate T. dulciolens and the southern T. caligatum. If the subpopulations of East Asia are regarded as of the same magnitude as the European ones, we can estimate the total Eurasian populations to be approximately 10,000 localities (approximately 200,000 individuals). The potential eastern North American subpopulations probably represent a 10-20% addition to these numbers.
The pine forests that house T. matsutake, have undergone a considerable decline during the past decades, due to (i) pine forest diseases in East Asia, (ii) deforestation e.g. in south-west China, (iii) eutrophication/heavy N-deposition and loss of areas in large parts of Europe, and (iv) reduced habitat quality of remaining forest due to intensive forestry with clear-cuts (e.g. northern Europe) (Brandrud and Bendiksen 2014). The pine forest habitats of the pale variant of T. matsutake in eastern North America seem more stable, due to the often remote locations and low timber-value of the Jack Pine forests.
The species is estimated to be declining at a rate of >30% in 3 generations (50 years) worldwide, irrespective of the inclusion of the North American subpopulations or not. This is the only species with market distribution statistics in Japan, which indicate a >95% decline in fruitbody-production and probably also in the entire subpopulation since 1940: 6,000-12,000 t/yr during 1910-1940's, reduced to 51 t in 2007, 71 t in 2008, 24 t in 2009, 140 t in 2010 and 37 t in 2011. This decline is mainly due to the introduced pathogen of its host, Pine Wilt Nematode, and a change of management practices, which formerly kept the pine forest stands more open and with a thin litter layer (T. Hattori, pers. comm.). The reduction has been most serious in western areas of Japan, which were once famous as a product centre for this fungus.
Population Trend: decreasing
Tricholoma matsutake forms mycorrhiza with Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris) in Europe, and with other Pinus species in East Asia, such as Japanese Red Pine Pinus densifolia (which are now strongly suffering from the Pine Wilt Nematode disease). In East Asia the species does have a wider host range; also occurring with with Tsuga in Japan and with Maries Fir in Sakhalin.
In the core areas of northern Europe, the species is mainly associated with dry, often lichen-dominated, sandy pine forests on glacifluvial deposits along the larger rivers, including esker-ridges (deposits made by subglacial rivers; Brandrud and Bendiksen 2014). In southern Fennoscandia, however, the species also occurs in rocky, shallow soil, in oligotrophic pine forests. The species seems to favour some disturbance, such as reindeer grazing or forest fires, and the highest fruitbody production is found where there is little ground vegetation and only a thin litter-layer (N. Bergius, pers. comm.). The pine root/Matsutake mycorrhizae develop dense mycelial aggregations called shiros deep into the sandy soils (Ogawa 1975), and these very probably survive forest fires of “normal” intensity. The species preferentially occurs in old-growth forests, especially in northern Fennoscandia, and when it occurs in younger, more forestry-influenced forest stands, these are normally stands where single seed-producing/retention trees have been left after cutting (Risberg 2003). The mycelia of the species here probably survived on the roots of old, single trees, just as in the case of forest fire successions. This apparent dependence on forest/tree/root continuity, makes the species vulnerable to modern forestry with clear-cuts. In East Asia, it is not an old growth forest specialist, and optimal fruiting is found in approximately 50 year old, fairly open, and often south-west-facing, pine forest stands (T. Hattori, pers. comm.). It is usually found in nutrient poor forests with little litter accumulation and little understory vegetation.
The pale Matsutakes found in eastern North America grow preferentially in dry, litter/lichen dominated Jack Pine (Pinus ponderosa) forests on sandy-gravelly glacial soils (including esker-ridges), a habitat very similar to that of T. matsutake in Europe.
Tricholoma matsutake, aka Matsutake, and related species are highly valuable, edible fungi sold in both local and international markets.