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Environ Health Perspect. 2011 Mar;119(3):306-11. doi: 10.1289/ehp.1002555.

The consequences of feminization in breeding groups of wild fish.

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Institute for the Environment, Brunel University, Uxbridge, United Kingdom.



The feminization of nature by endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) is a key environmental issue affecting both terrestrial and aquatic wildlife. A crucial and as yet unanswered question is whether EDCs have adverse impacts on the sustainability of wildlife populations. There is widespread concern that intersex fish are reproductively compromised, with potential population-level consequences. However, to date, only in vitro sperm quality data are available in support of this hypothesis.


The aim of this study was to examine whether wild endocrine-disrupted fish can compete successfully in a realistic breeding scenario.


In two competitive breeding experiments using wild roach (Rutilus rutilus), we used DNA microsatellites to assign parentage and thus determine reproductive success of the adults.


In both studies, the majority of intersex fish were able to breed, albeit with varying degrees of success. In the first study, where most intersex fish were only mildly feminized, body length was the only factor correlated with reproductive success. In the second study, which included a higher number of more severely intersex fish, reproductive performance was negatively correlated with severity of intersex. The intersex condition reduced reproductive performance by up to 76% for the most feminized individuals in this study, demonstrating a significant adverse effect of intersex on reproductive performance.


Feminization of male fish is likely to be an important determinant of reproductive performance in rivers where there is a high prevalence of moderately to severely feminized males.

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