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The female germline comprises a reserve population of primordial (non-growing) follicles containing diplotene oocytes arrested in the first meiotic prophase. By convention, the reserve is established when all individual oocytes are enclosed by granulosa cells. This commonly occurs prior to or around birth, according to species. Histologically, the 'reserve' is the number of primordial follicles in the ovary at any given age and is ultimately depleted by degeneration and progression through folliculogenesis until exhausted. How and when the reserve reaches its peak number of follicles is determined by ovarian morphogenesis and germ cell dynamics involving i) oogonial proliferation and entry into meiosis producing an oversupply of oocytes and ii) large-scale germ cell death resulting in markedly reduced numbers surviving as the primordial follicle reserve. Our understanding of the processes maintaining the reserve comes primarily from genetically engineered mouse models, experimental activation or destruction of oocytes, and quantitative histological analysis. As the source of ovulated oocytes in postnatal life, the primordial follicle reserve requires regulation of i) its survival or maintenance, ii) suppression of development (dormancy), and iii) activation for growth and entry into folliculogenesis. The mechanisms influencing these alternate and complex inter-related phenomena remain to be fully elucidated. Drawing upon direct and indirect evidence, we discuss the controversial concept of postnatal oogenesis. This posits a rare population of oogonial stem cells that contribute new oocytes to partially compensate for the age-related decline in the primordial follicle reserve.