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Phenological Changes in the Concentration of Alkaloids of Carex brevicollis in an Alpine Rangeland

Busqué, Juan, Pedrosa, Mercedes Martin, Cabellos, Blanca, Muzquiz, Mercedes
Journal of chemical ecology 2010 v.36 no.11 pp. 1244-1254
Carex, alkaloids, cows, grasslands, grazing, inflorescences, leaves, mountains, phenology, rangelands, stems, summer, toxicity, Spain
Carex brevicollis (Cyperaceae) is a plant of mesic grasslands in calcareous mountains of southern Europe. It contains two different β-carboline alkaloids, brevicolline and brevicarine, the first of which is thought to produce abortions in mammals. In the rangeland of Aliva, within the Picos de Europa massif in northern Spain, the abundance of Carex brevicollis has been linked with the occurrence of teratogenesis in early gestating cows grazing in early summer. The concentration of alkaloids was measured in the summers of 2007 and 2008, at intervals of 2 weeks, at different altitudes within the rangeland (1,350, 1,600, and 1,850 m) and from different parts of the sedge (leaves, reproductive stems, and inflorescences). Estimated growing degree days were related to the flowering phenology of Carex brevicollis and were used to analyse its relation with the concentration of alkaloids. Brevicarine concentration was higher in inflorescences and brevicolline in leaves. Although it also depended on the zone and year, the concentrations of both alkaloids were related one to another in leaves and inflorescences but not in stems. Both alkaloids decreased with growing degree days in the inflorescences and showed no response in leaves. Our findings suggest that brevicarine, not brevicolline, could be the teratogen in pregnant cattle in this region. This hypothesis is supported by the observed frequent consumption of inflorescences and scarce consumption of leaves of Carex brevicollis by grazing livestock, and also by the coincidence of the toxicity in early pregnant cows with the flowering time of the sedge.