A meta-analysis of effects of dietary seaweed on beef and dairy cattle performance and methane yield

PLoS One. 2021 Jul 12;16(7):e0249053. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0249053. eCollection 2021.


There has been considerable interest in the use of red seaweed, and in particular Asparagopsis taxiformis, to increase production of cattle and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We hypothesized that feeding seaweed or seaweed derived products would increase beef or dairy cattle performance as indicated by average daily gain (ADG), feed efficiency measures, milk production, and milk constituents, and reduce methane emissions. We used meta-analytical methods to evaluate these hypotheses. A comprehensive search of Google Scholar, Pubmed and ISI Web of Science produced 14 experiments from which 23 comparisons of treatment effects could be evaluated. Red seaweed (Asparagopsis taxiformis) and brown seaweed (Ascophyllum nodosum) were the dominant seaweeds used. There were no effects of treatment on ADG or dry matter intake (DMI). While there was an increase in efficiency for feed to gain by 0.38 kg per kg [standardized mean difference (SMD) = 0.56; P = 0.001] on DerSimonian and Laird (D&L) evaluation, neither outcome was significant using the more rigorous robust regression analysis (P >0.06). The type of seaweed used was not a significant covariable for ADG and DMI, but A. nodosum fed cattle had lesser feed to gains efficiency compared to those fed A. taxiformis. Milk production was increased with treatment on weighted mean difference (WMD; 1.35 ± 0.44 kg/d; P <0.001); however, the SMD of 0.45 was not significant (P = 0.111). Extremely limited data suggest the possibility of increased percentages of milk fat (P = 0.040) and milk protein (P = 0.001) on (D&L) WMD evaluation. The limited data available indicate dietary supplementation with seaweed produced a significant and substantial reduction in methane yield by 5.28 ± 3.5 g/kg DMI (P = 0.003) on D&L WMD evaluation and a D&L SMD of -1.70 (P = 0.001); however, there was marked heterogeneity in the results (I2 > 80%). In one comparison, methane yield was reduced by 97%. We conclude that while there was evidence of potential for benefit from seaweed use to improve production and reduce methane yield more in vivo experiments are required to strengthen the evidence of effect and identify sources of heterogeneity in methane response, while practical applications and potential risks are evaluated for seaweed use.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis

MeSH terms

  • Animal Feed*
  • Animals
  • Cattle
  • Dairying*
  • Diet*
  • Methane / analysis*
  • Seaweed*


  • Methane

Grants and funding

The authors received no funding for this work.