The Dutch elm disease fungus Ophiostoma novo-ulmi, which has destroyed billions of elm trees worldwide, originally invaded Europe as a series of clonal populations with a single mating type (MAT-2) and a single vegetative incompatibility (vic) type. The populations then rapidly became diverse with the appearance of the MAT-1 type and many vegetative incompatibility types. Here, we have investigated the mechanism using isolates from sites in Portugal at which the rapid evolution of O. novo-ulmi populations from clonality to heterogeneity was well established. We show by genetic mapping of vic and MAT loci with AFLP markers and by sequence analysis of MAT loci that this diversification was due to selective acquisition by O. novo-ulmi of the MAT-1 and vic loci from another species, Ophiostoma ulmi. A global survey showed that interspecies transfer of the MAT-1 locus occurred on many occasions as O. novo-ulmi spread across the world. We discuss the possibility that fixation of the MAT-1 and vic loci occurred in response to spread of deleterious viruses in the originally clonal populations. The process demonstrates the potential of interspecies gene transfer for facilitating rapid adaptation of invasive organisms to a new environment.