It would be desirable to use semen parameters to predict the in vivo fertilizing capacity of a particular ejaculate. In animal production, an ejaculate is divided into multiple doses for artificial insemination (AI); therefore, it would be economically beneficial to know the functional quality (i.e., fertility) of the semen before it is inseminated. To identify a predictive assay of the fertilizing capacity of a porcine ejaculate, we performed 4 rapid assays of sperm quality (motility, viability, physiological status as assessed by chlortetracycline fluorescence, and ATP content) on samples from 9 ejaculates, before and after a thermal stress test (42.5 degrees C, 45 min). These parameters were subsequently correlated with in vivo fertility resulting from AI with 2 sperm doses, 3 x 10(9) or 0.3 x 10(9) motile cells in 70 mL (optimal or suboptimal sperm number per insemination, respectively) from these same ejaculates. No parameter was correlated to the fertility rates obtained after inseminating with the optimal semen doses, either before or after the thermal stress test (P > 0.05). However, with respect to the animals inseminated with the suboptimal semen dose, sperm motility (the percentage of motile spermatozoa as assessed visually by microscopy) prior to thermal stress was well-correlated to fertility rates (r = 0.783, P = 0.01). The percentage of spermatozoa displaying the chlortetracycline Pattern AR (acrosome reaction) was also statistically related to fertility (r = 0.05, P = 0.04), but the biological importance of this relationship is questionable given the small variation among ejaculates (range: 0 to 2%). No other sperm parameter was significantly related to fertility rates in this group (P > 0.05). These data, therefore, indicate that sperm motility is a useful indicator of sperm fertilizing capacity in vivo. Moreover, to identify a predictor of semen fertility it is critical that the number of spermatozoa used during insemination is sufficiently low to detect differences in sperm fertilizing efficiency.