Manipulation of the fertility of marsupials for conservation of endangered species and control of over-abundant populations
K.E. Matea*, F.C. Moliniaa,b, J.C. Rodgera
a Cooperative Research Centre for Conservation and Management of Marsupials, School of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University, New South Wales 2109, Australia
b Landcare Research, PO Box 69, Lincoln, 8152, New Zealand
Marsupials present a dichotomy in population management; the numbers of many Australian marsupial species have declined due to loss of habitat, competition from introduced herbivores and predation by introduced carnivores, but other species have become locally overabundant in Australia or are introduced pests in New Zealand. The manipulation of reproduction offers the means to increase or decrease productivity; however, considerable fundamental research is required before reproductive technologies can be applied to marsupials. Marsupials differ from eutherian mammals in several aspects of their reproduction including sex differentiation, gamete function and endocrinology, as well as in the relative lengths of gestation and lactation. Although these differences present unique problems in the application of reproductive technologies to marsupials, they also present unique opportunities for marsupial-specific fertility control. This paper summarises the assisted breeding technologies currently being applied to marsupials including superovulation, artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization and gene banking; unique marsupial targets for contraceptive intervention including gamete production, sperm capacitation, gamete surface antigens and embryonic development; and some options for the delivery of contraceptive vaccines to marsupial populations.