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Keywords:

  • Correlated evolution;
  • dioecy;
  • sequential hermaphroditism;
  • sex determination;
  • teleosts;
  • wrasse

The size advantage hypothesis (SAH) predicts that the rate of increase in male and female fitness with size (the size advantage) drives the evolution of sequential hermaphroditism or sex change. Despite qualitative agreement between empirical patterns and SAH, only one comparative study tested SAH quantitatively. Here, we perform the first comparative analysis of sex change in Labridae, a group of hermaphroditic and dioecious (non–sex changer) fish with several model sex-changing species. We also estimate, for the first time, rates of evolutionary transitions between sex change and dioecy. Our analyses support SAH and indicate that the evolution of hermaphroditism is correlated to the size advantage. Furthermore, we find that transitions from sex change to dioecy are less likely under stronger size advantage. We cannot determine, however, how the size advantage affects transitions from dioecy to sex change. Finally, contrary to what is generally expected, we find that transitions from dioecy to sex change are more likely than transitions from sex change to dioecy. The similarity of sexual differentiation in hermaphroditic and dioecious labrids might underlie this pattern. We suggest that elucidating the developmental basis of sex change is critical to predict and explain patterns of the evolutionary history of sequential hermaphroditism.