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J Evol Biol. 2007 Jan;20(1):213-20.

Sex ratio variance and the maintenance of environmental sex determination.

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Department of Biology, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA, USA.


Although variation in population sex ratios is predicted to increase the extinction rate of clades with environmental sex determination (ESD), ESD is still seen in a wide array of natural systems. It is unclear how this common sex-determining system has persisted despite this inherent disadvantage associated with ESD. We use simulation modelling to examine the effect of the sex ratio variance caused by ESD on population colonization and establishment. We find that an accelerating function of establishment success on initial population sex ratio favours a system that produces variance in sex ratios over one that consistently produces even sex ratios. This sex ratio variance causes ESD to be favoured over genetic sex determination, even when the mean global sex ratio under both sex-determining systems is the same. Data from ESD populations suggest that the increase in population establishment can more than offset the increased risk of extinction associated with temporal fluctuations in the sex ratio. These findings demonstrate that selection in natural systems can favour increased variance in a trait, irrespective of the mean trait value. Our results indicate that sex ratio variation may provide an advantage to species with ESD, and may help explain the widespread existence of this sex-determining system.

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