Temperature-dependent sex determination and contemporary climate change

Sex Dev. 2010;4(1-2):129-40. doi: 10.1159/000282494. Epub 2010 Feb 9.


Whether species that have persisted throughout historic climatic upheavals will survive contemporary climate change will depend on their ecological and physiological traits, their evolutionary potential, and potentially upon the resources that humans commit to prevent their extinction. For those species where temperatures influence sex determination, rapid global warming poses a unique risk of skewed sex ratios and demographic collapse. Here we review the specific mechanisms by which reptiles with temperature-dependent sex determination (TSD) may be imperilled at current rates of warming, and discuss the evidence for and against adaptation via behavioural or physiological means. We propose a scheme for ranking reptiles with TSD according to their vulnerability to rapid global warming, but note that critical data on the lability of the sex determining mechanism and on the heritability of behavioural and threshold traits are unavailable for most species. Nevertheless, we recommend a precautionary approach to management of reptiles identified as being at relatively high risk. In such cases, management should aim to neutralise directional sex ratio biases (e.g. by manipulating incubation temperatures or assisted migration) and promote adaptive processes, possibly by genetic supplementation of populations. These practices should aid species' persistence and buy time for research directed at more accurate prediction of species' vulnerability.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Animals
  • Body Temperature / physiology*
  • Climate Change*
  • Female
  • Male
  • Population Dynamics
  • Sex Determination Processes*