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Population Consequences of Environmental Sex Reversal

Cotton, S; Wedekind, C; (2009) Population Consequences of Environmental Sex Reversal. CONSERV BIOL , 23 (1) 196 - 206. 10.1111/j.1523-1739.2008.01053.x.

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Abstract

When sex determination in a species is predominantly genetic but environmentally reversible, exposure to (anthropogenic) changes in the environment can lead to shifts in a population's sex ratio. Such scenarios may be common in many fishes and amphibians, yet their ramifications remain largely unexplored. We used a simple model to study the (short-term) population consequences of environmental sex reversal (ESR). We examined the effects on sex ratios, sex chromosome frequencies, and population growth and persistence after exposure to environmental forces with feminizing or masculinizing tendencies. When environmental feminization was strong, X chromosomes were driven to extinction. Analogously, extinction of normally male-linked genetic factors (e.g., Y chromosomes) was caused by continuous environmental masculinization. Although moderate feminization was beneficial for population growth in the absence of large viability effects, our results suggest that the consequences of ESR are generally negative in terms of population size and the persistence of sex chromosomes. Extreme sex ratios resulting from high rates of ESR also reduced effective population sizes considerably. This may limit any evolutionary response to the deleterious effects of ESR. Our findings suggest that ESR changes population growth and sex ratios in some counter-intuitive ways and can change the predominant factor in sex determination from genetic to fully environmental, often within only a few tens of generations. Populations that lose genetic sex determination may quickly go extinct if the environmental forces that cause sex reversal cease.

Type:Article
Title:Population Consequences of Environmental Sex Reversal
DOI:10.1111/j.1523-1739.2008.01053.x
Keywords:environmental sex reversal, extinction, population growth, sex determination, FEMALE CHINOOK SALMON, ENDOCRINE DISRUPTION, GENETIC-MARKER, COLUMBIA-RIVER, FISH EMBRYOS, Y-CHROMOSOME, PULP-MILL, RATIOS, CONSERVATION, DYNAMICS
UCL classification:UCL > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Life Sciences > Biosciences (Division of)

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