• 1

    Received 12 July 1993. Accepted 21 October 1993.

  • This study would have been impossible without the clones maintained so faithfully over many years by Mark Maguire. The authors are also most grateful for the technical assistance of Debra A. Moon. Portions of the work were supported by a grant from the Office of Naval Research (N00014-92-J-1462) and by NIH-MARC funding to L.J.G.

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Two species of the colonial green flagellate family Volvocaceae are worldwide in distribution yet exhibit contrasting species structure. Geographically disparate isolates of Gonium pectorale Mueller can interbreed while isolates of Pandorina morum Bory behave quite differently. More than 20 sexually isolated subpopulations occur within this species; these have been termed “syngens” (sensu Sonneborn). Because prezygotic barriers to mating cause intersyngen pairings to fail, breeding analyses cannot be used to estimate genetic relatedness among the syngens of P. morum. DNA comparisons provide an alternative method of assessing genetic relatedness. We compared the nucleotide sequence of the internal transcribed spacer (ITS) region of the nuclear ribosomal repeat among clones of P. morum and of G. pectorale. Members of syngens of P. morum with distribution restricted to one small geographical area show great similarity. Likewise, members of any syngen of worldwide distribution show near uniformity, even those from different continents. However, the ITS sequence of each syngen differs from that of other syngens. In contrast, G. pectorale, which has an ITS region that is remarkably uniform throughout the world, appears to consist of a single syngen within North America and Europe by mating tests. The molecular data are in complete conformity with previous syngen assignment. Because the latter is based on mating affinity, with two complementary mating types per syngen, the evolution of new mating type pairs appears to be the basis of microevolution in these algae. We infer that either P. morum is a more ancient species than G. pectorale or that P. morum has a less stable genome. In either case, the biogeographic distribution of certain syngens may reflect climatological changes of the past.