Mexico is an important global reservoir of biological and cultural richness and traditional knowledge of wild mushrooms. However, there is a high risk of loss of this knowledge due to the erosion of traditional human cultures which is related with the rapid acculturation linked to high migration of rural populations to cities and the U.S.A., and the loss of natural ecosystems. The Mixtec people, the third largest native group in Mexico only after the Nahua and the Maya, maintain ancient traditions in the use and knowledge of wild mushrooms. Paradoxically, there are few studies of the Mixtec ethnomycology. This study shows our ethnomycological research, mainly focused on knowledge and use of wild mushrooms in communities of the Mixteca Alta, in southeastern Mexico. We hypothesized that among the studied communities those with a combination of higher vegetation cover of natural pine and oak forests, lower soil erosion and higher economic margination had a greater richness and knowledge of wild mushrooms. Our study therefore aimed to record traditional knowledge, use, nomenclature and classification of wild mushrooms in four Mixtec communities and to analyze how these aspects vary according to environmental and cultural conditions among the studied communities.
In order to analyze the cultural significance of wild mushrooms for the Mixtec people, 116 non-structured and semi-structured interviews were performed from 2009 to 2014. Information about the identified species, particularly the regional nomenclature and classification, their edibility, toxicity and ludic uses, the habitat of useful mushrooms, traditional recipes and criteria to differentiate between toxic and edible species, and mechanisms of knowledge transmission were studied. The research had the important particularity that the first author is Mixtec, native of the study area. A comparative qualitative analysis between the richness of fungal species used locally and the official information of the natural vegetation cover, soil erosion and economic marginalization in each of the studied communities was conducted.
A total of 106 species of mushrooms were identified growing in pine and oak forest, deciduous tropical forest and grassland; among the identified mushrooms we recorded 26 species locally consumed, 18 considered toxic, 6 having ludic uses and the remaining 56 species not being used in the studied areas but some of them having potential as food (56 species) or medicine (28 species). We recorded that 80, 22 and 4 species are ectomycorrhizal, saprotrophic and parasites, respectively. Our study shows that a complex and accurate knowledge related with the use, nomenclature, classification, ecology, gastronomy of wild mushrooms has been developed by Mixtecs; and that there is a relation between natural vegetation cover, lower soil erosion and higher economic marginalization and richness, knowledge and use of mushrooms in the studied communites.
Our study showed that conservation and adaptation of ancestral mycological knowledge survives mainly through oral transmition, maintenance of cultural identity, forest protection, preservation native language and also paradoxically through the current socieconomical marginality among the Mixtec people. We also found that those studied communities with a combination of higher vegetation cover of natural pine and oak forests, lower soil erosion and higher economic marginalization showed a greater richness and knowledge of wild mushrooms. Use and sustainable management of wild mushrooms can be an alternative for local integrated development, but local knowledge and traditional worldview should be included into the regional programs of Mixtec biocultural conservation.