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Am J Bot. 2009 Jun;96(6):1075-85. doi: 10.3732/ajb.0800287.

Selenium protects the hyperaccumulator Stanleya pinnata against black-tailed prairie dog herbivory in native seleniferous habitats.

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  • 1Biology Department, Program in Molecular Plant Biology, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado 80523 USA.


Elemental hyperaccumulation in plants is hypothesized to represent a plant defense mechanism. The objective of this study was to determine whether selenium (Se) hyperaccumulation offers plants long-term protection from the black-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus). Prairie dogs are a keystone species. The hyperaccumulator Stanleya pinnata (prince's plume) co-occurs with prairie dogs in seleniferous areas in the western United States. Stanleya pinnata plants pretreated with high or low Se concentrations were planted on two prairie dog towns with different levels of herbivory pressure, and herbivory of these plants was monitored over 2 years. Throughout this study, plants with elevated Se levels suffered less herbivory and survived better than plants with low leaf Se concentrations. This study indicates that the Se in hyperaccumulator S. pinnata protects the plant in its natural habitat from herbivory by the black-tailed prairie dog. The results from this study support the hypothesis that herbivory by prairie dogs or similar small mammals has been a contributing selection pressure for the evolution of plant Se hyperaccumulation in North America. This study is the first to test the ecological significance of hyperaccumulation over a long period in a hyperaccumulator's natural habitat.

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