Climate change is going to screw with life on Earth in more ways than we could ever predict. Ice caps and glaciers will melt, oceans will rise, cities will sink … and many animals will suffer fatal sex complications.
You know the situation is dire when Earth’s earliest inhabitants are getting blue-balled into extinction.
Which, seems to be precisely what’s happening.
Temperature dependent sex determination (TSD) is a trait that is surprisingly common throughout the animal kingdom, despite its glaringly obvious drawbacks. It’s explained as a phenomenon whereby the sex of the offspring is determined by environmental temperatures they incubate within. Temperature changes flip some genetic switch, and kick off the biological processes that cause male or female embryo development.
Lucky for humans (and our mammalian fam) parental genes determine our sex at birth. But imagine if, during an abnormally hot year, all of the babies in the country were born female. Or conversely, if on a very cold year everyone was born a male. It would cause a lot of reproductive frustration, to put it mildly. And on a warming planet, that could very well put our species at risk.
This is the problem facing sea turtles and a number of other animals as global temperature rise. A new scientific study of sea turtle populations in different parts of the Great Barrier Reef found that some sea turtle populations were 99 percent female-bias — meaning only 1 percent of the turtles in that area were male. With ratio’s like that, there isn’t a lot of sea turtle sex going on, and therefore, very few sea turtle babies are being born.
“While rising temperatures may initially result in increased female population sizes, the lack of male turtles will eventually impact the overall fertility of females in the population,” concludes the study. “As such, our study raises new concerns over the immediate threats of climate change to sea turtle populations.”
And sea turtles aren’t the only ones getting sexually shorted by climate change. Lizards like the Australian snow skink and the tuataras of New Zealand, fish like the Argentinian silverside, and many species of tortoises and turtles all stand to suffer sexual consequences as a result of rising temperatures.
To think: what if our sex lives hung in the balance? Would humanity be taking a more proactive approach to combating climate change? Democrats for sure. Republicans … only if it affected teenagers and porn stars … allegedly.
Jokes aside, the problem would have been solved long ago if that were the case. Alas, the sex lives of other species aren’t high on humanity’s list of priorities.
There’s still a lot to be learned about TSD and how it’s going to impact the planet in the coming decades. But it’s safe to say, there is reason to fear for these reptiles and fish. Evolution and adaptation are highly effective mechanisms of survival, but they function over the course of decades and centuries.
And according to experts smarter than you or I, these creatures may not have that kind of time on their side.