High elevation increases the risk of Y chromosome loss in Alpine skink populations with sex reversal

Duminda S.B. Dissanayake, Clare E. Holleley, Janine E. Deakin, Arthur Georges

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


The view that has genotypic sex determination and environmental sex determination as mutually exclusive states in fishes and reptiles has been contradicted by the discovery that chromosomal sex and environmental influences can co-exist within the same species, hinting at a continuum of intermediate states. Systems where genes and the environment interact to determine sex present the opportunity for sex reversal to occur, where the phenotypic sex is the opposite of that predicted by their sex chromosome complement. The skink Bassiana duperreyi has XX/XY sex chromosomes with sex reversal of the XX genotype to a male phenotype, in laboratory experiments, and in field nests, in response to exposure to cold incubation temperatures. Here we studied the frequency of sex reversal in adult populations of B. duperreyi in response to climatic variation, using elevation as a surrogate for environmental temperatures. We demonstrate sex reversal in the wild for the first time in adults of a reptile species with XX/XY sex determination. The highest frequency of sex reversal occurred at the highest coolest elevation location, Mt Ginini (18.46%) and decreased in frequency to zero with decreasing elevation. We model the impact of this under Fisher’s frequency-dependent selection to show that, at the highest elevations, populations risk the loss of the Y chromosome and a transition to temperature-dependent sex determination. This study contributes to our understanding of the risks of extinction from climate change in species subject to sex reversal by temperature, and will provide focus for future research to test on-the-ground management strategies to mitigate the effects of climate in local populations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)805-816
Number of pages12
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 2021


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