Evolutionary Ecology

, Volume 34, Issue 1, pp 27–40 | Cite as

Sex change as a survival strategy

  • Jennifer D. GreshamEmail author
  • Kristine M. Marson
  • Andrey Tatarenkov
  • Ryan L. Earley
Original Paper


Sequential hermaphroditism (sex change) is understood to be a strategy that maximizes lifetime reproduction in systems where one sex confers highest fitness early in life, and the other later in life. This strategy is evolutionarily stable despite costs to growth, survival, or current reproduction. Few studies have examined advantages of sex change outside of reproduction. The mangrove rivulus fish, Kryptolebias marmoratus, presents a unique system in which to study non-reproductive consequences of sex change because reproductive opportunity decreases significantly with sex change. In natural conditions, individuals develop as self-fertilizing simultaneous hermaphrodites. Some individuals change sex to male at various points after sexual maturity, even in isolation, essentially foregoing future reproductive assurance. In a large-scale experiment that examined fitness differences among individuals exposed to ecologically relevant environmental challenges, we found that individuals that change sex from hermaphrodite to male had overwhelmingly greater chances of survival compared to those that remained hermaphrodite. Furthermore, hermaphrodites derived from lineages with higher propensities to change sex experienced greater survival advantages by changing sex. Our results indicate that sex change may be a survival strategy, one with genotype-dependent consequences.


Sex change Self-fertilization Hermaphrodite Sex allocation Mangrove rivulus Kryptolebias marmoratus 



We are grateful to two anonymous reviewers and an editor for valuable comments that significantly improved the manuscript. This work was supported by E. O. Wilson Fellowship (University of Alabama), Edward C. Raney Fund (American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists), Graduate Council Fellowship (University of Alabama), and Research Grants Committee (University of California, Irvine). All procedures were approved by the University of Alabama Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (protocols #13-10-0048 and #15-04-0102). Field activities, including collection methods and processing of animals, were approved by a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Special Activity License (SAL-15-1132A-SR), Florida Department of Environmental Protection State Park permits (06051410, 06261510, and 06231610), a Brevard County Environmentally Endangered Lands Program Research permit, and a Pinellas County Parks and Conservation Resources research permit.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

10682_2019_10023_MOESM1_ESM.docx (344 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 343 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesUniversity of AlabamaTuscaloosaUSA
  2. 2.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyUniversity of CaliforniaIrvineUSA

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