Sex reversal and ontogeny under climate change and chemical pollution: are there interactions between the effects of elevated temperature and a xenoestrogen on early development in agile frogs?


Anthropogenic environmental change poses a special threat to species in which genetic sex determination can be overwritten by the thermal and chemical environment. Endocrine disrupting chemicals as well as extreme temperatures can induce sex reversal in such species, with potentially wide-ranging consequences for fitness, demography, population viability and evolution. Despite accumulating evidence suggesting that chemical and thermal effects may interact in ecological contexts, little is known about their combined effects on sex reversal. Here we assessed the simultaneous effects of high temperature (female-to-male sex-reversing agent) and 17α-ethinylestradiol (EE2), a widespread xenoestrogen (male-to-female sex-reversing agent), on sexual development and fitness-related traits in agile frogs (Rana dalmatina). We exposed tadpoles to a six-days heat wave (30 °C) and/or an ecologically relevant concentration of EE2 (30 ng/L) in one of three consecutive larval periods, and diagnosed sex reversals two months after metamorphosis using species-specific markers for genetic sexing. We found that high temperature induced female-to-male sex reversal, decreased survival, delayed metamorphosis, decreased body mass at metamorphosis, and increased the proportion of animals that had no fat bodies, while EE2 had no effect on these traits. Simultaneous exposure to heat and EE2 had non-additive effects on juvenile body mass, which were dependent on treatment timing and further complicated by a negative effect of sex reversal on body mass. These results show that environmentally relevant exposure to EE2 does not diminish the female-to-male sex-reversing effects of high temperature. Instead, our findings on growth suggest that climate change and chemical pollution may have complex consequences for individual fitness and population persistence in species with environment-sensitive sex determination.

Authors: Zsanett Mikó, Edina Nemesházi, Nikolett Ujhegyi, Viktória Verebélyi, János Ujszegi, Andrea Kásler, Réka Bertalan, Nóra Vili, Zoltán Gál, Orsolya I Hoffmann, Attila Hettyey, Veronika Bókony
; Full Source: Environmental pollution (Barking, Essex : 1987) 2021 Sep 15;285:117464. doi: 10.1016/j.envpol.2021.117464.