Photoperiod may regulate seasonal reproduction either by providing the primary driving force for the reproductive transitions or by synchronizing an endogenous reproductive rhythm. This study evaluated whether breed differences in timing of the reproductive seasons of Finnish Landrace (Finn) and Galway ewes are due to differences in photoperiodic drive of the reproductive transitions or to differences in photoperiodic synchronization of the endogenous rhythm of reproductive activity. The importance of decreasing photoperiod after the summer solstice in determining the onset and duration of the breeding season was tested by housing ewes from the summer solstice in either a simulated natural photoperiod or a fixed summer-solstice photoperiod (18 h light:6 h dark; summer-solstice hold). Onset of the breeding season within each breed did not differ between these photoperiodic treatments, but Galway ewes began and ended their breeding season earlier than Finn ewes. The duration of the breeding season was shorter in Galway ewes on summer-solstice hold than on simulated natural photoperiod; duration did not differ between photoperiodic treatments in Finn ewes. The requirement for increasing photoperiod after the winter solstice for initiation of anoestrus was tested by exposing ewes from the winter solstice to either a simulated natural photoperiod or a winter-solstice hold photoperiod (8.5 h light:15.5 h dark). Onset of anoestrus within each breed did not differ between these photoperiodic treatments, but the time of this transition differed between breeds. These observations suggest that genetic differences in timing of the breeding season in Galway and Finn ewes do not reflect differences in the extent to which photoperiod drives the reproductive transitions, because neither breed requires shortening days to enter the breeding season or lengthening days to end it at appropriate times. These findings are consistent with the hypothesis that photoperiod synchronizes an endogenous rhythm of reproductive activity in both breeds and that genetic differences in timing of the breeding season reflect differences in photoperiodic synchronization of this rhythm.
University College Dublin ->