Comparative studies of epididymal morphology and sperm distribution in dasyurid marsupials during the breeding season

D. A. Taggart, P. D. Temple‐Smith

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The structural features of the epididymis and the number and distribution of spermatozoa along the duct, during the breeding season, were examined in two semelparous and three iteroparous dasyurid marsupials. Total numbers of epididymal spermatozoa were extremely low in all of these species when compared with epididymal sperm numbers in most other marsupials and eutherian mammals. Although semelparous dasyurids had significantly more epididymal spermatozoa than itcroparous species, very few spermatozoa were seen in the distal cauda epididymidis of any of the species examined. This coincided with distinct changes in duct shape and the surface area of the lumen in caudal regions which resulted in a reduced sperm storage capacity in the cauda epididymidis of these species. The data suggest that, like Antechinus stuartii (Taggart & Temple‐Smith, 1990a), sperm content of the ejaculates in these species will be extremely low, and that sperm motility and/or transport in the female tract is highly efficient. The functional and evolutionary significance of the reproductive strategies of semelparous and iteroparous dasyurid marsupials is still obscure and further study is needed to determine if the length of sperm storage in the female and sperm competition for storage sites is related to sperm distribution in the male and mating activities. This study does, however, clearly indicate that large numbers of spermatozoa are not required to ensure successful fertilization in either semelparous or iteroparous members of the family Dasyuridae.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)365-381
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Zoology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 1994

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