Environmental Biology of Fishes

, Volume 29, Issue 2, pp 81–93

The evolution of sex-change mechanisms in fishes

  • Robert M. Ross


Five distinct sex-change mechanisms are identified among sequentially hermaphroditic fishes based on socio-ecological characteristics. The primary determinants of the sex-change mechanisms appear to be social organization and mating system, which in turn depend on resource distribution in space and time. The ability of a single individual to control all mating in the social unit, which is related to the size of the social unit, differentiates three suppression mechanisms from two induction mechanisms. Sex-change suppression, which is characteristic of species with small group size and rigid dominance hierarchies, refers to inevitable sex change in the absence of group dominance. Ability to migrate between resource patches differentiates protogynous suppression (e.g. inLabroides dimidiatus) from protandrous suppression (e.g. inAmphiprion spp.). Early sex change appears to have evolved from protogynous suppression under special conditions involving the loss of mating control by a single dominant individual in certain species (e.g.Centropyge spp. ). Sex-change induction, which is characteristic of species with large social groups lacking rigid dominance hierarchies, refers to the requirement that sex change must be induced by specific characteristics of (or changes in) the social group, regardless of dominance status. Ability to distinguish sex, or its importance, differentiates sex-ratio induction (e.g.Anthias squamipinnis) from size-ratio induction (e.g.Thalassoma spp.). Alternative models account for the possibility that all cases of sex change require stimulation from smaller conspecifics (universal induction-inhibition model) or that all fish have the genetic capacity to switch mechanisms, depending on changing ecological conditions and resulting changes in mating system (behavioral-scaling model). Neurophysiological models suggest that induction mechanisms, which require at least two categories of environmental stimuli, may have evolved from the simpler suppression mechanisms, which require only one kind of input from the environment.

Key words

Dominance hierarchy Group size Hermaphroditism Mating system Polygamy potential Protandry Protogyny Sex ratio Size ratio Teleostei 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert M. Ross
    • 1
  1. 1.National Fishery Research and Development LaboratoryWellsboroU.S.A.

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