Artificial insemination in marsupials
John C. Rodger a,*, Damien B.B.P. Paris b, Natasha A. Czarny a, Merrilee S. Harris a, Frank C. Molinia c, David A. Taggart d, Camryn D. Allen e, Stephen D. Johnston e
a School of Environmental and Life Sciences, The University of Newcastle, NSW 2308, Australia
b Department of Equine Sciences, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Universiteit Utrecht, 3584 CM Utrecht, The Netherlands
c Landcare Research, Private Bag 92170, Auckland 1142, New Zealand
d Royal Zoological Society of South Australia, Frome Rd, Adelaide, SA 5000, Australia
e School of Animal Studies, The University of Queensland, Gatton 4343, Australia
Assisted breeding technology (ART), including artificial insemination (AI), has the potential to advance the conservation and welfare of marsupials. Many of the challenges facing AI and ART for marsupials are shared with other wild species. However, the marsupial mode of reproduction and development also poses unique challenges and opportunities. For the vast majority of marsupials, there is a dearth of knowledge regarding basic reproductive biology to guide an AI strategy. For threatened or endangered species, only the most basic reproductive information is available in most cases, if at all. Artificial insemination has been used to produce viable young in two marsupial species, the koala and tammar wallaby. However, in these species the timing of ovulation can be predicted with considerably more confidence than in any other marsupial. In a limited number of other marsupials, such precise timing of ovulation has only been achieved using hormonal treatment leading to conception but not live young. A unique marsupial ART strategy which has been shown to have promise is cross-fostering; the transfer of pouch young of a threatened species to the pouches of foster mothers of a common related species as a means to increase productivity. For the foreseeable future, except for a few highly iconic or well studied species, there is unlikely to be sufficient reproductive information on which to base AI. However, if more generic approaches can be developed; such as ICSI (to generate embryos) and female synchronization (to provide oocyte donors or embryo recipients), then the prospects for broader application of AI/ART to marsupials are promising.
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