Sexual differentiation across taxa may be due to genetic sex determination (GSD) and/or temperature sex determination (TSD). In many mammals, males are heterogametic (XY); whereas females are homogametic (XX). In most birds, the opposite is the case with females being heterogametic (ZW) and males the homogametic sex (ZZ). Many reptile species lack sex chromosomes, and instead, sexual differentiation is influenced by temperature with specific temperatures promoting males or females varying across species possessing this form of sexual differentiation, although TSD has recently been shown to override GSD in Australian central beaded dragons (Pogona vitticeps). There has been speculation that Australian Brush-turkeys (Alectura lathami) exhibit TSD alone and/or in combination with GSD. Thus, we sought to determine if this species possesses sex chromosomes. Blood was collected from one sexually mature female and two sexually mature males residing at Sylvan Heights Bird Park (SHBP) and shipped for karyotype analysis. Karyotype analysis revealed that contrary to speculation, Australian Brush-turkeys possess the classic avian ZW/ZZ sex chromosomes. It remains a possibility that a biased primary sex ratio of Australian Brush-turkeys might be influenced by maternal condition prior to ovulation that result in her laying predominantly Z- or W-bearing eggs and/or sex-biased mortality due to higher sensitivity of one sex in environmental conditions. A better understanding of how maternal and extrinsic factors might differentially modulate ovulation of Z- or W-bearing eggs and hatching of developing chicks possessing ZW or ZZ sex chromosomes could be essential in conservation strategies used to save endangered members of Megapodiidae.
Ortega, M. T., Foote, D. J., Nees, N., Erdmann, J. C., Bangs, C. D., & Rosenfeld, C. S. (2017). Karyotype analysis and sex determination in Australian Brush-turkeys (Alectura lathami). PLoS ONE, 12(9). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0185014