Theory of environmental sex determination: Trending populations in stressful environments

Philip H. Crowley, Jacques Labonne

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Species that have sex determined by environmental conditions during development (i.e., environmental sex determination [ESD]) are especially vulnerable to environmental change, including altered stress levels, habitat loss, and species translocations. These factors can produce multigenerational trends in population size and eco-evolutionary dynamics not captured by existing theory based on lifetime reproductive success (R0). Here, we extend ESD theory to use per capita growth rate r as a more appropriate measure of evolutionary success (fitness), and we demonstrate the importance of this change when males and females can differ in maturation times and when maturation times vary with local conditions (plasticity). In these cases, we show that primary and secondary sex ratios may be strongly biased; that optimal maturation times, when locally plastic, depend on the balance between mortality and growth effects; and that plasticity of maturation times can ameliorate fitness costs of increasing environmental stress.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)794-805
Number of pages12
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank A. Bardonnet and V. Bolliet for many discussions on how eel life histories might fit this analysis and for comments and suggestions on the manuscript. PHC thanks the Fulbright Program for supporting his work at the Aquapôle INRAE field station in St‐Pée‐sur‐Nivelle and the University of Kentucky for sabbatical support.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Authors. Evolution © 2021 The Society for the Study of Evolution.


  • Eco-evolutionary processes
  • eels
  • environmental stress
  • life history theory
  • optimal plasticity
  • sex ratios
  • source-sink dynamics
  • species invasions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (all)


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