Background: In gonochoristic vertebrates, sex determination mechanisms can be classified as genotypic (GSD) or temperature-dependent (TSD). Some cases of TSD in fish have been questioned, but the prevalent view is that TSD is very common in this group of animals, with three different response patterns to temperature.
Methodology/principal findings: We analyzed field and laboratory data for the 59 fish species where TSD has been explicitly or implicitly claimed so far. For each species, we compiled data on the presence or absence of sex chromosomes and determined if the sex ratio response was obtained within temperatures that the species experiences in the wild. If so, we studied whether this response was statistically significant. We found evidence that many cases of observed sex ratio shifts in response to temperature reveal thermal alterations of an otherwise predominately GSD mechanism rather than the presence of TSD. We also show that in those fish species that actually have TSD, sex ratio response to increasing temperatures invariably results in highly male-biased sex ratios, and that even small changes of just 1-2 degrees C can significantly alter the sex ratio from 1:1 (males:females) up to 3:1 in both freshwater and marine species.
Conclusions/significance: We demonstrate that TSD in fish is far less widespread than currently believed, suggesting that TSD is clearly the exception in fish sex determination. Further, species with TSD exhibit only one general sex ratio response pattern to temperature. However, the viability of some fish populations with TSD can be compromised through alterations in their sex ratios as a response to temperature fluctuations of the magnitude predicted by climate change.