Sexual selection in fungi


Correspondence: Bart P. S. Nieuwenhuis, Laboratory of Genetics, Wageningen University, Droevendaalsesteeg 1, 6708 PB Wageningen, The Netherlands.

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The significance of sexual selection, the component of natural selection associated with variation in mating success, is well established for the evolution of animals and plants, but not for the evolution of fungi. Even though fungi do not have separate sexes, most filamentous fungi mate in a hermaphroditic fashion, with distinct sex roles, that is, investment in large gametes (female role) and fertilization by other small gametes (male role). Fungi compete to fertilize, analogous to ‘male-male’ competition, whereas they can be selective when being fertilized, analogous to female choice. Mating types, which determine genetic compatibility among fungal gametes, are important for sexual selection in two respects. First, genes at the mating-type loci regulate different aspects of mating and thus can be subject to sexual selection. Second, for sexual selection, not only the two sexes (or sex roles) but also the mating types can form the classes, the members of which compete for access to members of the other class. This is significant if mating-type gene products are costly, thus signalling genetic quality according to Zahavi's handicap principle. We propose that sexual selection explains various fungal characteristics such as the observed high redundancy of pheromones at the B mating-type locus of Agaricomycotina, the occurrence of multiple types of spores in Ascomycotina or the strong pheromone signalling in yeasts. Furthermore, we argue that fungi are good model systems to experimentally study fundamental aspects of sexual selection, due to their fast generation times and high diversity of life cycles and mating systems.