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A general problem in evolutionary biology is that quantitative tests of theory usually require a detailed knowledge of the underlying trade-offs, which can be very hard to measure. Consequently, tests of theory are often constrained to be qualitative and not quantitative. A solution to this problem can arise when life histories are viewed in a dimensionless way. Recently, dimensionless theory has been developed to predict the size and age at which individuals should change sex. This theory predicts that the size at sex change/maximum size (L50/L(max)), and the age at sex change/age at first breeding (tau/alpha) should both be invariant. We found support for these two predictions across 52 species of fish. Fish change sex when they are 80% of their maximum body size, and 2.5 times their age at maturity. This invariant result holds despite a 60 and 25 fold difference across species in maximum size and age at sex change. These results suggest that, despite ignoring many biological complexities, relatively simple evolutionary theory is able to explain quantitatively at what point sex change occurs across fish species. Furthermore, our results suggest some very broad generalities in how male fitness varies with size and age across fish species with different mating systems.


Journal article


J Evol Biol

Publication Date





921 - 929


Age Factors, Animals, Biological Evolution, Body Constitution, Female, Fishes, Hermaphroditic Organisms, Male, Models, Theoretical, Sex Determination Processes, Sexual Maturation