Ophiocordyceps sinensis collection in Southwest China



project finished

The caterpillar mushroom Ophiocordyceps sinensis (syn. Cordyceps sinensis; Chinese: Chongcao; Tibetan: Yartsa gunbu),
is among the most valuable mushrooms in the world, and plays a major
role for cash income for local people in its distribution area on the
Tibetan Plateau and adjacent regions. The fungus parasitizes the
caterpillar of moth species belonging to the genus Thitarodes
living in the soil of grass- and scrublands between an altitude of 3000
and 5000 m. The fungus grows in the body of the infected caterpillar,
and before its death, the caterpillar moves close to the soil surface
allowing the fruiting body of the fungus to develop above ground. Ophiocordyceps sinensis
is used since centuries in Tibetan and Chinese medicine. Recently,
however, its use as a tonic and medicinal food increased dramatically
mainly in Hong Kong, the wealthy coastal cities of China, and among the
overseas Chinese communities. While it is possible to cultivate the
mycelium of the fungus on artificial substrate, attempts to cultivate
the fungus on infected caterpillars, which are perceived as most
valuable and effective, failed so far. Therefore, the increasing market
demand has a direct impact on the wild harvest of the species on the
Tibetan Plateau and adjacent regions. The enormous price increase in
recent years turned this fungus into the most important source of cash
income in contemporary rural Tibet. However, little is known about the
long term impact of its harvest on species population level. So far,
conservation initiatives concentrate with various successes on
minimizing the side effects of its harvest on the surrounding fragile
alpine environment (e.g. fuelwood collection, hunting, garbage
production, etc). Factors influencing O. sinensis collection
at both the household and community level of the local people are
largely unknown, and the discussion on best practice of sustainable
harvest considering both, O. sinensis as a valuable income
source for rural poor and protection of its habitat, is ongoing. The
present project aimed to contribute to this discussion with a detailed
analysis of the collection of the fungus in a nature reserve in
Southwest China. It focused on the household and community level and
highlighted the factors which influence the engagement of the local
people with O. sinensis collection. The management measures of
the nature reserve were analyzed from a community perspective and
conclusions for sustainable harvest of high value natural resources in
protected areas were drawn and discussed in the context of the
literature available from other O. sinensis collection areas such as the Tibetan Plateau, Bhutan and Nepal.


  • Weckerle, C.S., Yang, Y.P., Huber, F.K., Li, Q.H. (2010).
    People, money, and protected areas: the collection of the caterpillar mushroom Ophiocordyceps sinensis in the Baima Xueshan Nature Reserve, Southwest China.
    Biodiversity and Conservation 19: 2685-2698.
    Abstract | Link to article
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