a1 UWA Institute of Agriculture M082, The University of Western Australia, Crawley, Western Australia 6009, Australia
a2 School of Animal Biology, The University of Western Australia, Crawley, Western Australia 6009, Australia
a3 School of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences, Murdoch University, Murdoch, WA 6150, Australia
In mature male sheep and goats, changes in feed intake seem to have little effect on gonadal endocrine function but induce profound changes on sperm production. These outcomes are due to changes in size of the seminiferous tubules and in spermatogenic efficiency. Except with severe underfeeding, there are only minor changes in the endocrine function of the testis (testosterone production) unless season-long treatments are imposed. For cattle, nutrition clearly affects testicular development and the production of spermatozoa in young bulls, as it does in other species but, after the period of rapid growth has ended, there appears to be little or no response to nutrition. We are developing a clear picture of the metabolic signals, neuroendocrine processes and hormonal control systems that are involved, particularly for the mature male sheep. The energetic components of the diet, rather than protein, seem to be responsible, so we have envisaged a model of the relationship between energy balance and reproduction that has 4 ‘dimensions’: genotype, structure (organs), communication (chemical and neural signals, nutrient sensing) and time (dynamics, metabolic memory, programming). We have linked these perspectives to ‘resource allocation theory’ and incorporated them into strategies for ‘clean, green and ethical animal production’. In contrast to the clear outcomes with respect to spermatogenesis, the effects of nutrition on sexual behaviour are more difficult to define, perhaps because the behaviour is affected by a complex mix of physiological factors and because of flawed methods for quantifying male behaviour. For example, sexual behaviour is compromised by severe feed restriction, but male sexual behaviour requires intensive motor activity so a decline in libido could be caused by general weakness rather than specific nutritional limitations. The interaction between sexual activity and feeding behaviour also complicates the issue under field conditions. At the other end of the scale, overweight males can show reduced sexual success because they have difficulty courting and mounting. For this reason, exercise can enhance the fertilising capacity of rams. This will be important in extensive mating systems where males need to assemble and guard a harem and then mate many times for several weeks. For artificial insemination centres, there seems to be very few data on the nutritional management of males, but problems with overfed animals appear to be a risk. Future research should concentrate on the intra-testicular systems mediating the effects of nutrition on the production of spermatozoa.
(Received September 30 2009)
(Accepted November 05 2009)
(Online publication January 07 2010)