Optimal physicochemical conditions for the manipulation and short-term preservation of koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) spermatozoa


S. D. Johnston1, M. R. McGowan1, N. J. Phillips1 and P. O’Callaghan2 


1School of Veterinary Science, University of Queensland, St Lucia, Queensland 4072, Australia

2Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, Jesmond Road, Fig Tree Pocket, Queensland 4069, Australia



Protocols for the successful manipulation and preservation of semen in a given species depend upon a fundamental knowledge of how spermatozoa respond to the physicochemical conditions of the extension media; methods developed for the preservation of eutherian spermatozoa may not necessarily be suitable for marsupial semen. The aim of this study was to investigate the effects on koala sperm motility of serial dilution, changes in temperature, diluent pH and osmolality to establish the optimal physicochemical conditions for short-term semen storage. This study showed that electroejaculated koala semen diluted 1:1 (v/v) with PBS frequently coagulated after incubation at 35°C, but that further dilution and incubation resulted in a corresponding increase in the percentage of spermatozoa swimming in a non-linear trajectory. The effect of rapid temperature change on the motility of koala spermatozoa was investigated by exposing semen, initially diluted at 35°C, to temperatures of 45, 25, 15 and 5°C. Although sperm motility was reduced after incubation at 45°C, a rapid decrease in temperature of up to 20°C did not result in a significant reduction in sperm motility. However, contrary to evidence in other marsupials, there was a small but significant decrease in sperm motility after rapid cooling of diluted semen from 35 to 5°C. The effects of diluent pH and osmolality on the motility of koala spermatozoa were investigated. These experiments indicated that diluents for koala sperm manipulation should buffer in a pH range of 7–8 and have an osmolality of approximately 300mmolkg–1. The final experiment compared the relative effectiveness of Tris–citrate buffer (1% glucose) and PBS to maintain koala sperm motility over a range of incubation temperatures (5–35°C) for up to 8 days. Reduction in sperm motility was directly related to temperature, and motility was sustained for the longest duration when stored at 5°C. The Tris–citrate buffer solution was superior to PBS as a preservation diluent at all temperatures, and koala spermatozoa remained motile even after 42 days storage at 5°C. Spermatozoa diluted in PBS (with Ca2+ or Mg2+)and cooled to 5°C showed evidence of an unusual motility pattern, similar to that of hyperactivated eutherian spermatozoa. This study showed that koala spermatozoa respond to different physicochemical conditions associated with short-term liquid storage in essentially the same way as the spermatozoa of eutherian mammals, although koala spermatozoa appear to be more tolerant of rapid temperature shock. The results of this study can be used to make informed selections with regard to appropriate diluent composition and improved short-term sperm preservation protocols and represent the first such database for any species of marsupial.