Research Summary: The Lesser Known Challenge of Climate Change: Thermal Variance and Sex-Reversal in Vertebrates with Temperature-Dependent Sex Determination


Climate change is expected to disrupt biological systems. Particularly susceptible are species with temperature-dependent sex determination (TSD), as in many reptiles. While the potentially devastating effect of rising mean temperatures on sex ratios in TSD species is appreciated, the consequences of increased thermal variance predicted to accompany climate change remain obscure. Surprisingly, no study has tested if the effect of thermal variance around high-temperatures (which are particularly relevant given climate change predictions) has the same or opposite effects as around lower temperatures. Here we show that sex ratios of the painted turtle (Chrysemys picta) were reversed as fluctuations increased around low and high unisexual mean-temperatures. Unexpectedly, the developmental and sexual responses around female-producing temperatures were decoupled in a more complex manner than around male-producing values. Our novel observations are not fully explained by existing ecological models of development and sex determination, and provide strong evidence that thermal fluctuations are critical for shaping the biological outcomes of climate change.


Publisher: Public Library of Science

Date Published: 23-March-2011

Author(s): Neuwald J., Valenzuela N.


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