Revisiting variation in leaf magnesium concentrations in forage grasses for improved animal health

Beth Penrose*, J. Alan Lovatt, Sarah Palmer, Russell Thomson, Martin R. Broadley

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Aims: An Italian ryegrass cultivar (Lolium multiflorum Lam. cv. Bb2067), selected and bred for increased leaf magnesium (Mg) concentration in the 1970s, reduced the incidence of hypomagnesaemia in sheep under experimental grazings. Here, we report evidence from archival experiments showing that cv. Bb2067 had consistently greater Mg concentrations at multiple sites. We also aimed to quantify variation in leaf Mg concentration among modern perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne L.), hybrid ryegrass (Lolium perenne × multiflorum), and tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea Shreb.) cultivars. Methods: Data are reported from unpublished 1980s field-plot experiments for cv. Bb2067 and contemporaneous reference cultivars, sown at two UK locations in 1983 and 1984, and from 397 cultivars of modern forage grass in 13 UK-based breeding experiments sampled in spring 2013. Results: Across sites, years and cuts, cv. Bb2067 had a consistently greater leaf Mg concentration and lower potassium (K) concentration and forage tetany index (FTI) than reference cultivars in the 1980s experiments. Seasonal variation in leaf Mg and K concentrations and FTI were observed in the 1980s experiments, with K concentrations being generally greatest and Mg concentrations smallest in spring. Among modern forage grasses, there was large variation in leaf Mg concentration (up to 6.3-fold) and FTI (up to 2.1-fold), both within and between species, which varied independently of yield. Among a subset of hybrid ryegrass cultivars, there is evidence that the high Mg trait is already present in some modern breeding lines, albeit previously unreported. Conclusions: The variation in leaf Mg concentration and FTI among old and new cultivars shows there is considerable potential to breed forages with improved mineral quality to improve livestock health, potentially without compromising yield or other nutritional traits.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)43-55
Number of pages13
JournalPlant and Soil
Issue number1-2
Early online date26 Sept 2020
Publication statusPublished - 01 Dec 2020


  • Biofortification
  • Forages
  • Grass staggers
  • Hypomagnesaemia
  • Ryegrass
  • Tetany


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