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Plant Toxins and Palatability to Herbivores

Russell J. Molyneux and Michael H. Ralphs
Journal of Range Management
Vol. 45, No. 1 (Jan., 1992), pp. 13-18
DOI: 10.2307/4002519
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4002519
Page Count: 6
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Plant Toxins and Palatability to Herbivores
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Abstract

A complex relationship exists between the presence of toxins in a plant species and the palatability of that plant. The nature of the toxin and its concentration within the plant can generally be precisely defined, given a reasonable amount of research commitment, but the measurement of palatability, especially in livestock, is much more difficult to achieve. We hypothesize that analysis of possible roles of toxins in plants, their metabolic activity in animals, and physical and temporal distribution within the plant can be used to examine whether or not such compounds may significantly increase or reduce palatability to mammalian herbivores. Thus, if the toxin is effective in preventing predation of the plant or plant part by insect herbivores, or if it provides the plant with a competitive advantage versus other species, but does not produce adverse effects upon large mammals until significant quantities of biomass are consumed, then the toxin-palatability relationship is not significant. This concept is illustrated by examination of the toxicity produced in livestock by consumption of alkaloid-containing groundsel (Senecio) and locoweed (Astragalus and Oxytropis) species. The prevention of predation by localization of the toxin, mobilization to the site of attack, or production at a particular stage of growth provides opportunities for the application of management techniques designed to reduce exposure of livestock to natural plant toxicants.

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