The many species of larkspur (Delphinium spp. L.) are among the most dangerous poisonous plants on rangelands in the western United States, causing death losses estimated at 2 – 5% (up to 15%) per year for cattle grazing in larkspur habitat. Other effects, such as altered grazing management practices and consequent lost forage quantity and quality, are significant but poorly understood. Current best management practice recommendations are based on seasonal avoidance, with little evidence that this is practical or effective. Our ongoing research has presented evidence that instead it may be possible to manage grazing such that all cattle eat some larkspur, but none eat a fatal dose. This raises the question of the potential response of larkspur to being grazed. In this study we examine the response of Geyer's larkspur (D. geyeri Greene) to two seasons of 25% or 75% aboveground plant mass removal. The 75% treatment led to significantly lower alkaloid concentrations (mg • g– 1) and pools (mg per plant), while the 25% treatment had a lesser effect. Combined with lessons from previous studies, this indicates that Geyer's larkspur plants subject to aboveground mass removal such as may occur via grazing can be expected to become significantly less dangerous to cattle. We suggest that the mechanisms for this reduction are both alkaloid removal and reduced belowground root mass, as significant evidence indicates that alkaloids are synthesized and stored in the roots. These results continue to build support for our theory that the solution to the seemingly intractable challenge of larkspur poisoning lies not in avoidance but in the skill of managers and the wisdom of herds.
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