Great Basin Naturalist


Selenium is critical in livestock nutrition; forage can be either potentially deficient or toxic in this element. Selenium is accumulated in excessive amounts by a relatively few species of plants. Several of these plants, termed indicator species, occur in the western Great Basin; however, selenium toxicity is not a problem in Nevada for domestic livestock. The detection of marginal dietary deficiencies of selenium is of much greater economic importance to the livestock industry than an excess of this element.

Selenium occurs as a trace element in the composition of various minerals. Selenium levels are very low in volcanic rocks of recent origin. Accumulations of this element require concentration through secondary dispersion and subsequent sedimentation. Therefore, excesses of selenium are usually associated with siltstone, sandstone, or other sedimentary rocks.

Selenium is usually found in soils as selenate, a water-soluble mineral. The selenium concentration of plants is directly related to the selenate concentration in soil. In soils low in selenate, the ability of plants to accumulate selenium is similar. In soils with high levels of selenate, indicator species accumulate 10 times as much selenium as other species. The foliage of most indicator plants is generally avoided by grazing animals. Deficiencies in dietary selenium are associated with the occurrence of white muscle disease, retained placentas, and general unthriftiness of animals. Insufficient dietary selenium can be overcome through injection, intraluminal pellets, or supplementation with salt mixtures.