Despite important advances in the last few years, the evolution of reproductive isolation (RI) remains an unresolved and critical gap in our understanding of speciation processes. In this study, we investigated the evolution of RI among species of the parasitic fungal species complex Microbotryum violaceum, which is responsible for anther smut disease of the Caryophyllaceae. We found no evidence for significant positive assortative mating by M. violaceum even over substantial degrees of genetic divergence, suggesting a lack of prezygotic isolation. In contrast, postzygotic isolation increased with the genetic distance between mating partners when measured as hyphal growth. Total RI, measured as the ability of the pathogen to infect and produce a diploid progeny in the host plant, was significantly and positively correlated with genetic distance, remaining below complete isolation for most of the species pairs. The results of this study, the first one on the time course of speciation in a fungus, are therefore consistent with previous works showing that RI generally evolves gradually with genetic distance, and thus presumably with time. Interestingly, prezygotic RI due to gamete recognition did not increase with genetic distance, in contrast to the pattern found in plants and animals.
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Vol. 61 • No. 7