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Environment and sex determination in farmed fish.

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CIRAD-EMVT, Station Commune de Recherches en Ichtyophysiologie, Biodiversité et Environnement, INRA-SCRIBE, Campus de Beaulieu, 35042 Rennes Cedex, France.


A plasticity of gonadal sex differentiation was reported in the 1930s following exogenous steroid treatments in fish, but demonstration that environmental factors (temperature, pH, density and social interactions) could influence the sex ratio in gonochoristic species has been relatively recent. In fish, as in reptiles and amphibians displaying environmental sex determination, the main environmental factor influencing sex seems to be temperature (TSD=Temperature Sex Determination). In most thermosensitive species (some Atherinids, Poecilids, Cichlids: tilapias, goldfish, a Siluriform, a flatfishellipsis) male to female ratio increases with temperature and/or ovarian differentiation is induced by low temperatures. Conversely, in some rare species (Dicentrarchus labrax, Ictalurus punctatus), high temperatures may produce female-biased sex ratios and/or low temperatures promote male-biased sex ratios. In the hirame Paralichthys olivaceus, both high and low temperatures induce monosex male populations while intermediate temperatures yield a 1:1 sex ratio (U-shape curve). Fish show particularities in their TSD patterns since mono-sex populations are generally not produced at extreme temperatures, suggesting the existence of strong temperature/genotype interactions. In reptiles, amphibians and fish displaying TSD, temperature treatments must be applied at a critical sensitive period, relatively similar to the hormone sensitive period. In gonochoristic fish, steroid hormones with estrogens in females and 11-oxygenated androgens in males, are probably key physiological steps in the regulation of gonadal sex differentiation. Cytochrome P450-aromatase, enzyme catalysing conversion of androgens to estrogens, seems to be a critical enzyme for ovarian differentiation. Molecular mechanisms of thermosensitivity have been addressed in two species tilapia Oreochromis niloticus and the hirame, where aromatase gene expression is down-regulated by masculinizing temperature treatments. Furthermore, in tilapia the gene expression of 11 beta-hydroxylase (a key enzyme involved in the synthesis of 11-oxygenated androgens) does not appear to be affected by temperature treatments.

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