Microbes and other organisms smaller than one to a few millimeters in size are hypothesized to have global populations, in contrast to the geographically restricted ranges of larger organisms. However, fungi, which routinely have reproductive propagules no larger than 10 micrometers, challenge the generality of this hypothesis because recent studies have shown that globally distributed morphological species embrace two or more geographically restricted phylogenetic species. We used the concordance of gene genealogies to recognize phylogenetic species in the globally distributed opportunistic human pathogenic fungus, Aspergillus fumigatus. Based on DNA sequence data of five loci for each of 63 individuals collected from five continents, we have delineated two phylogenetic species in this single morphological species. Unlike all other fungi examined to date, both genetically isolated groups showed a global distribution with no evidence of a correlation between genotype and geographic location. Sexual reproduction has never been observed in A. fumigatus, but when the same data were used to explore the association of alleles at the five loci for one of the phylogenetic species, evidence was found to support recombination. The discovery of a cryptic species is medically relevant because different species are likely to differ in virulence or drug resistance. The discovery of a globally distributed A. fumigatus species clade highlights the need for ecological studies of the fungus to either document global dispersal or propose alternative mechanisms by which it persists as single, global phylogenetic population.
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Vol. 59 • No. 9