The behavioural consequences of sex reversal in dragons

Hong Li, Clare HOLLELEY, Melanie Elphick, Arthur GEORGES, Richard Shine

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Citations (Scopus)


Sex differences in morphology, physiology, and behaviour are caused by sex-linked genes, as well as by circulating sex-steroid levels. Thus, a shift from genotypic to environmental sex determination may create an organism that exhibits a mixture of male-like and female-like traits. We studied a lizard species (Central Bearded Dragon, Pogona vitticeps), in which the hightemperature incubation of eggs transforms genetically male individuals into functional females. Although they are reproductively female, sex-reversed dragons (individuals with ZZ genotype reversed to female phenotype) resemble genetic males rather than females in morphology (relative tail length), general behaviour (boldness and activity level), and thermoregulatory tactics. Indeed, sex-reversed 'females' are more male-like in some behavioural traits than are genetic males. This novel phenotype may impose strong selection on the frequency of sex reversal within natural populations, facilitating rapid shifts in sex-determining systems. A single period of high incubation temperatures (generating thermally induced sex reversal) can produce functionally female individuals with male-like (or novel) traits that enhance individual fitness, allowing the new temperature-dependent sex-determining system to rapidly replace the previous genetically based one.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20160217
Pages (from-to)1-7
Number of pages7
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1832
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jun 2016


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