Immunocontraception in wild horses (Equus caballus) extends reproductive cycling beyond the normal breeding season


Background: Although the physiological effects of immunocontraceptive treatment with porcine zona pellucida (PZP) have been well studied, little is known about PZP's effects on the scheduling of reproductive cycling. Recent behavioral research has suggested that recipients of PZP extend the receptive breeding period into what is normally the non-breeding season. Methodology/Principal Findings: To determine if this is the case, we compiled foaling data from wild horses (Equus caballus) living on Shackleford Banks, North Carolina for 4 years pre- and 8 years post-contraception management with PZP (pre-contraception, n=65 births from 45 mares; post-contraception, n=97 births from 46 mares). Gestation lasts approximately 11-12 months in wild horses, placing conception at approximately 11.5 months prior to birth. Since the contraception program began in January 2000, foaling has occurred over a significantly broader range than it had before the contraception program. Foaling in PZP recipients (n=45 births from 27 mares) has consistently occurred over a broader range than has foaling in non-recipients (n = 52 births from 19 mares). In addition, current recipients of PZP foaled later in the year than did prior recipient and non-recipient mares. Females receiving more consecutive PZP applications gave birth later in the season than did females receiving fewer applications. Finally, the efficacy of PZP declined with increasing consecutive applications before reaching 100% after five consecutive applications. Conclusions/Significance: For a gregarious species such as the horse, the extension of reproductive cycling into the fall months has important social consequences, including decreased group stability and the extension of male reproductive behavior. In addition, reproductive cycling into the fall months could have long-term effects on foal survivorship. Managers should consider these factors before enacting immunocontraceptive programs in new populations. We suggest minor alterations to management strategies to help alleviate such unintended effects in new populations. © 2010 Nuñez et al.

Publication Title