Global Warming Might Cook Up Too Many Male Fish

Many reptiles have no sex chromosomes. Instead, their gender is determined by temperature. In crocodiles, for example, males are hot: eggs incubated in sand above a certain “pivotal temperature” almost always hatch males. That could spell trouble, because Earth is warming so fast that natural selection may not have time to adjust pivotal temperatures. Female crocodiles may become scarce. Some experts think fish are in the same hot water because temperature-dependent sex determination, or TSD, occurs in many species. But a critical analysis of the fish literature by Natalia Ospina-Álvarez and Francesc Piferrer, both of the Marine Science Institute in Barcelona, Spain, casts doubt on that assertion. The pair point out that fourteen of the twenty diverse fish genera previously reported as having TSD in fact have sex chromosomes, and that it takes unnatural temperatures found only in the laboratory to masculinize their genetic females. But the six genera that do show true TSD, including the Menidia silversides and the Apistogramma cichlids, could see their sex ratios skewed by global warming. And Ospina-Álvarez and Piferrer found that males were hot in all six. The researchers calculated that in such temperature-sensitive fishes — and there might well be many more than just six genera — a rise of 7 Fahrenheit degrees predicted by some models for the end of the century would yield three males for every female, a ratio unfavorable for maintaining populations. The findings were detailed in the journal PloS ONE.

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