Open Access Open Badges Research article

Experimental hybridization and backcrossing reveal forces of reproductive isolation in Microbotryum

Britta Büker12, Elsa Petit2, Dominik Begerow1 and Michael E Hood2*

Author Affiliations

1 Lehrstuhl für Evolution und Biodiversität der Pflanzen, AG Geobotanik, Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Universitätsstraße 150, Bochum 44780, Germany

2 Department of Biology, Amherst College, 220 South Pleasant Street, Amherst, MA 01002, USA

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2013, 13:224  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-13-224

Published: 10 October 2013



Hybridization and reproductive isolation are central to the origin and maintenance of species, and especially for sympatric species, gene flow is often inhibited through barriers that depend upon mating compatibility factors. The anther-smut fungi (genus Microbotryum) serve as models for speciation in the face of sympatry, and previous studies have tested for but not detected assortative mating. In addition, post-mating barriers are indicated by reduced fitness of hybrids, but sources of those barriers (i.e. ecological maladaptation or genetic incompatibilities) have not yet been detected. Here, backcrossing experiments, specifically controlling for the fungal species origins of the mating compatibility factors, were used to investigate reproductive isolation in the recently-derived species Microbotryum lychnidis-dioicae and Microbotryum silenes-dioicae.


Assortative mating was detected during backcrossing and was manifested by the preferential conjugation of the hybrid-produced gametes with non-hybrid gametes containing mating compatibility factors from the same parental species. Patterns of post-mating performance supported either a level of extrinsic isolation mechanism, where backcross progeny with a higher proportion of the pathogen genome adapted to the particular host environment were favored, or an infection advantage attributed to greater genetic contribution to the hybrid from the M. lychnidis-dioicae genome.


The use of controlled backcrossing experiments reveals significant species-specific mating type effects on conjugations between recently-derived sister species, which are likely to play important roles in both maintaining species separation and the nature of hybrids lineages that emerge in sympatry between Microbotryum species.