Male lizards turn into females when climate changes

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Climate change can switch sexual orientation hence male lizards are turned females. Scientists have confirmed that climate change affects the sex determination process of lizards in the wild. Animals are weird, last week we featured flatworms that have both male and female organs. Scientists have proven that a warming climate is now considered emasculating. Australia’s bearded dragon lizards can have their sex determined by climate change, a new study published in the journal Nature reveals — with male dragons transitioning into female during incubation.

Warmth has an effect on the gender of reptiles. Australian bearded male lizards, temperatures greater than 34 to 37 degrees Celsius can cause male embryos to turn into females, resulting in a gender ratio of 16:1 female:male. This new research demonstrates that not only does this happen in the wild, the sex-changed lizards are capable of reproducing — and moreover that female lizards with male chromosomes produce more eggs. Who knew?

“We had previously been able to demonstrate in the lab that when exposed to extreme temperatures, genetically male dragons turned into females,” lead author Clare Holleley, a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Canberra’s Institute for Applied Ecology, explained.

“Now we have shown that these sex reversed individuals are fertile and that this is a natural occurring phenomenon,” Holleley said.

“By breeding the sex reversed females with normal males, we could establish new breeding lines in which temperature alone determined sex,” Holleley said. “In doing so, we discovered that these lizards could trigger a rapid transition from a genetically-dependent system to a temperature-dependent system.”

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The animals are endangered because at least one population of bearded dragons is at risk of making this transition in the wild, resulting in a heavily female-skewed population. A population studied by the team is on the precipice of making the change from genetic sex determination to temperature-based sex determination — all that is required is for the climate to increase by just a fraction of a degree reports cnet.

“Once they become temperature dependent, the risk is that if it keeps warming they’ll produce 100 percent females and they’ll be at risk of extinction, so this is a concerning finding,” co-author Professor Arthur Georges said. This is a bad news because the earth is on its sixth extinction level.

The lizards can adapt to a rising temperatures and produce more males. The scientists are trying to ascertain on their extinctions. “The mechanisms that determine sex have a profound impact on the evolution and persistence of all sexually reproducing species,” Georges said. “The more we learn about them, the better-equipped we’ll be to predict evolutionary responses to climate change and the impact this can have on biodiversity globally.”


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