Sex ratio estimates for species with temperature-dependent sex determination differ according to the proxy used

Mariana M.P.B. Fuentes, University of North Florida
Jonathan Monsinjon, Laboratoire Ecologie, Systématique et Evolution
Milagros Lopez, Fundação Pró-TAMAR
Paulo Lara, Fundação Pró-TAMAR
Alexsandro Santos, Fundação Pró-TAMAR
Maria A.G. dei Marcovaldi, Fundação Pró-TAMAR
Marc Girondot, Laboratoire Ecologie, Systématique et Evolution


Knowledge of the sex ratio of a population is crucial to understand their structure and dynamics. For species, such as marine turtles, with temperature-dependent sex determination, this knowledge provides a baseline in advance of climate change. Determining the primary sex ratio for marine turtle populations is challenging since offspring lack sexually dimorphic external characteristics. Therefore several proxies have been used to estimate the primary sex ratio of marine turtle populations. However, no study to date has compared estimations of sex ratio when using different proxies to determine the most accurate and to detect potential bias. To address this, we estimated the sex ratio of natural loggerhead, Caretta caretta, nests using 8 different proxies: two based on constant temperature equivalent (average of temperature or average temperature weighted by the growth of embryos during each time step) both for three developmental periods (the whole incubation, the middle third of incubation and the middle third of development) as well as two proxies based on incubation duration (duration of the whole incubation and of the middle third of development). Sex ratio estimates differed greatly depending on the proxy being used. Here we discuss the differences among proxies based on the biological relevance of underlying hypotheses and highlight the need for studies to accurately determine the thermosensitive period and to obtain appropriate estimates of embryo growth rate to estimate marine turtle sex ratio.