Background: Matings between different Saccharomyces sensu stricto yeast species produce sexually sterile hybrids, so individuals should avoid mating with other species. Any mechanism that reduces the frequency of interspecific matings will confer a selective advantage. Here we test the ability of two closely-related Saccharomyces sensu stricto species to select their own species as mates and avoid hybridisation.
Results: We set up mate choice tests, using five independently isolated pairs of species, in which individual germinating spores were presented with the opportunity to mate either with a germinating spore of their own species or with a germinating spore of the other species. For all five strain pairs, whether a S. cerevisiae or S. paradoxus occupies the role of "chooser" strain, the level of hybridisation that is observed between the two species is significantly lower than would be expected if mates were selected at random. We also show that, overall, S. cerevisiae exhibited a stronger own-species preference than S. paradoxus.
Conclusion: Prezygotic reproductive isolation is well known in higher organisms but has been largely overlooked in yeast, an important model microbe. Here we present the first report of prezygotic reproductive isolation in Saccharomyces. Prezygotic reproductive isolation may be important in yeast speciation or yeast species cohesion, and may have evolved to prevent wasted matings between different species. Whilst yeast has long been used as a genetic model system, little is known about yeast in the wild. Our work sheds light on an interesting aspect of yeast natural behaviour: their ability to avoid costly interspecific matings.