Fungal diversity in the Albertine rift region
Following the recommendations of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, researchers from Universities in the Albertine Rift of Africa joined forces in 2013, setting up the network MycoRGL. Its ambition is to study the Fungal diversity and its potential socio-economic valorization in- and ex-situ, for the benefit of the local populations, among others via an edible mushrooms sector.
The Albertine rift region (e.g. the eastern edge of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Rwanda), which is the western counterpart of the east African rift, is an internationally recognized hotspot of biodiversity. This biodiversity and the local ecosystems are at the origin of ecosystem services, benefiting directly or indirectly to the populations. This region is also an area of extreme poverty, aggravated by recurring conflicts, causing population displacement. This precarious and unstable socio-economic context is placing pressures on ecosystems that, despite their protection status, are overexploited, deteriorated and ultimately threatened.
Fungi are a major component of the biodiversity in terms of species and ecological roles. Some species are also edible (or medicinal), sought by the people who traditionally consider them as “food”. They also play a role in the local farmer economy, through a local market.
However, the taxonomic and functional diversity of Fungi in the Albertine rift ecosystems is still very poorly studied. Similarly, their nutritional and socio-economic values are not objectified and no study has been conducted to evaluate their potential for the regional development of a domestication / ex situ production.
The current project, funded by ARES for 5 years (2018-2022), in the frame of the PRD program, builds on these statements, also posed by the Network of Mycologists of the Great Lakes Region, and relayed by local NGOs, highlighting the need to study this component of biodiversity to better understand the functioning of ecosystems, and to objectify these services in order to consider a reasoned in-situ exploitation and the creation of an ex-situ production chain.
The objective of this project is to study the Mycota, placing an emphasis on the edible mushrooms, in several protected areas of the Albertine Rift, particularly in DRC, in terms of :
a) diversity (taxonomy, biology, ecology)
b) nutritional value
c) potential for domestication
d) socio-economic importance of seasonal harvesting activities and controlled, sustainable, ex-situ production.
Through an integrated approach, the project aims at offering the protected area manager data on the Fungal diversity, and the population a choice of domesticated species, whose production will be controlled and economically viable. This objective will be achieved through trainings of field actors in conservation, PhD trainings and continuous training of academic staffs in the local Universities. By its regional dimension, involving researchers from DRC, Burundi and Rwanda, the project is part of the cross-border environmental policies for the protection of environment and the valorization of natural resources in a context of sustainable development.
The consortium joins teams in Belgium (Université catholique de Louvain, Université de Liège, Université Libre de Bruxelles, Botanical garden, in Meise), Democratic Republic of Congo (Universities of Goma and Bukavu), Rwanda (University of Rwanda, at Butare) and Burundi (Office Burundais de la Protection de l’Environnement), and Belgium).
BCCM/MUCL will focus its activities on the Fungal diversity in various ecosystems along altitudinal gradient in the Albertine Rift, emphasizing several groups of tree associated macromycetes playing important ecological functions in ecosystems, including, among other, the genus Armillaria, an important forest pathogen but also a pathogen of perennial crops.