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CitationOlson, B. E., Wallander, R. T., & Kott, R. W. (1997). Recovery of leafy spurge seed from sheep. Journal of Range Management, 50(1), 10-15.
PublisherSociety for Range Management
JournalJournal of Range Management
AbstractSheep are often used to graze North American rangelands infested with leafy spurge (Euphorbia esula L.), a long-lived perennial forb from Eurasia. Our objective was to determine if sheep grazing infested rangelands disperse leafy spurge seed by transport in their fleece or by depositing seeds in their feces. Twenty-four yearling Targhee ewes grazed a 2.4 ha native bunchgrass range site infested with leafy spurge from late-May through mid-August of 1993 and 1994. Six of the 24 ewes were shorn in October 1993. To recover leafy spurge seeds from those fleeces, we used a standard method to test wool for vegetable matter. On average, 38 seeds were recovered per fleece. During these summers, 6 small groups (n = 4 sheep per group) each grazed 3 separate paddocks. We estimated the density of leafy spurge seed before the groups were moved into 1 of 3 paddocks. After the sheep were moved into a paddock (day 0), we collected fresh feces from each group on or about day 4, 10, and 14. Feces were then washed over sieves to recover leafy spurge seeds. All seeds were tested for germinability and viability. The number of viable seeds excreted daily per ewe was estimated. In 1993, 1,796 +/- 405 (S.E.) leafy spurge seeds m-2 were produced in the field, whereas in 1994, 399 +/- 63 (S.E.) leafy spurge seeds m-2 were produced. The summer of 1994 was much drier than the summer of 1993. We estimated that 41 to 144 leafy spurge seeds were excreted daily per animal in mid-July 1993. Viability of seeds in the feces averaged 5%, whereas viability of seeds collected from seed stalks was 42%. We estimated that the ewes excreted from 2 to 41 leafy spurge seeds daily at the peak in mid-July 1994. Viability of seeds excreted during 1994 averaged 24%, whereas viability of seeds collected from seed stalks was 68%. Sheep can pick up leafy spurge seed in their fleece, and will consume and pass viable seed. However, viability of seed recovered from feces was highly variable and almost always lower than seed collected in the field. Despite reduced seed numbers and viability, sheep have the potential to spread leafy spurge and should be managed accordingly.