Can audio-visual or visual stimuli from a prospective mate stimulate a reproductive neuroendocrine response in sheep?

Research paper by P A R PA Hawken, T T Esmaili, V V Scanlan, D D Blache, G B GB Martin

Indexed on: 01 May '09Published on: 01 May '09Published in: Animal : an international journal of animal bioscience


Stimuli from a prospective mate increase the secretion of luteinising hormone (LH) in sheep. This 'male effect' in ewes and 'female effect' effect in rams is predominantly mediated by olfactory signals, though it is thought that non-olfactory signals play synergistic or substitutive roles. In this study, we tested whether exposure to visual or audio-visual stimuli from a prospective mate would stimulate an increase in LH secretion in ewes (Experiment 1) and rams (Experiment 2). In Experiment 1, groups of eight Merino ewes were exposed to one of three stimuli midway through a frequent blood-sampling regimen: full ram contact, still images of rams, a video of ewes and rams mating. Control ewes (n = 8) were completely isolated from rams. Exposure to still images of rams appeared to stimulate an increase in mean LH concentrations (P < 0.05) and tended to increase LH pulse frequency (P < 0.1), but the response was significantly smaller than that observed in ewes exposed to rams (P < 0.01). Audio-visual stimuli had no effect on any parameters of LH secretion (P > 0.1). In Experiment 2, Merino rams were allocated to either an Exposure (n = 7) or a Control (n = 7) group. Exposure rams underwent two exposure periods midway through a frequent blood-sampling regimen; exposure to still images of ewes and audio recorded during mating of ewes and rams (audio-visual exposure); exposure to oestrous ewes (ewe exposure). Control rams were sampled at the same frequency but remained isolated from ewe stimuli. Exposure of rams to the audio-visual stimuli did not affect any parameters of LH secretion (P > 0.1). In contrast, exposure to oestrous ewes increased LH pulse frequency (P < 0.05) and advanced the onset of the next LH pulse (P < 0.05). In conclusion, visual signals appear to be involved in eliciting the neuroendocrine response of ewes to rams and are of greater importance to this phenomenon in ewes (male effect) than rams (female effect). However, overall the visual and audio-visual signals used in this study were far less effective than stimulus animals, suggesting that these stimuli are less important than olfactory signals, or a combination of olfactory and audio-visual signals.