The evolution of mating type switching


Predictions about the evolution of sex determination mechanisms have mainly focused on animals and plants, whereas unicellular eukaryotes such as fungi and ciliates have received little attention. Many taxa within the latter groups can stochastically switch their mating type identity during vegetative growth. Here, we investigate the hypothesis that mating type switching overcomes distortions in the distribution of mating types due to drift during asexual growth. Using a computational model, we show that smaller population size, longer vegetative periods and more mating types lead to greater distortions in the distribution of mating types. However, the impact of these parameters on optimal switching rates is not straightforward. We find that longer vegetative periods cause reductions and considerable fluctuations in the switching rate over time. Smaller population size increases the strength of selection for switching but has little impact on the switching rate itself. The number of mating types decreases switching rates when gametes can freely sample each other, but increases switching rates when there is selection for speedy mating. We discuss our results in light of empirical work and propose new experiments that could further our understanding of sexuality in isogamous eukaryotes.

Journal details

Journal Evolution
Volume 70
Issue number 7
Pages 1569-1581
Available online
Publication date