Campus Units

Ecology, Evolution and Organismal Biology

Document Type


Publication Version

Accepted Manuscript

Publication Date


Journal or Book Title

Journal of Heredity




Organisms become adapted to their environment by evolving through natural selection, a process that generally transpires over many generations. Currently, anthropogenically driven environmental changes are occurring orders of magnitude faster than they did prior to human influence, which could potentially outpace the ability of some organisms to adapt. Here, we focus on traits associated with temperature-dependent sex determination (TSD), a classic polyphenism, in a model turtle species to address the evolutionary potential of species with TSD to respond to rapid climate change. We show, first, that sex-ratio outcomes in species with TSD are sensitive to climatic variation. We then identify the evolutionary potential, in terms of heritability, of TSD and quantify the evolutionary potential of 3 key traits involved in TSD: pivotal temperature, maternal nest-site choice, and nesting phenology. We find that these traits display different patterns of adaptive potential: pivotal temperature exhibits moderate heritable variation, whereas nest-site choice and nesting phenology, with considerable phenotypic plasticity, have only modest evolutionary potential to alter sex ratios. Therefore, the most likely response of species with TSD to anthropogenically induced climate change may be a combination of microevolution in thermal sensitivity of the sex-determining pathway and of plasticity in maternal nesting behavior.


This article has been accepted for publication in Journal of Heredity (2015) Published by Oxford University Press. Doi: 10.1093/jhered/esv053.

Copyright Owner

American Genetic Association



File Format


Published Version