The filamentous ascomycete genus Neurospora encompasses taxa with a wide range of reproductive modes. Sexual reproduction in this genus can be divided into three major modes; heterothallism (self-incompatibility), homothallism (self-compatibility) and pseudohomothallism (partial self-compatibility). In addition to the sexual pathway, most of the heterothallic taxa propagate with morphologically distinct, vegetative dissemination propagules (macroconidia), while this feature is undetected in the majority of the homothallic taxa. In this study, we used sequence information of seven nuclear gene loci from 43 taxa (295 of the possible 301 locus-by-taxon combinations) to create a phylogeny of Neurospora. The results suggest that transitions in reproductive mode have occurred at multiple times within this group of fungi. Although a homothallic ancestor would imply fewer switches in reproductive mode, we argue that the ancestor of Neurospora was likely heterothallic and that homothallism has evolved independently at least six times in the evolutionary history of the genus. Furthermore, the two pseudohomothallic taxa of Neurospora (N. tetrasperma and N. tetraspora) represent two independent origins of pseudohomothallism. Likelihood ratio tests of substitution rates among branches in the phylogeny indicate that reproductive mode is an important factor driving genome evolution in Neurospora. First, an increased level of non-synonymous/synonymous substitutions in branches delineating homothallic taxa was found, suggesting a reduced efficiency of purifying selection in these taxa. Furthermore, elevated nucleotide substitution rates were found in heterothallic, conidia-producing, lineages as compared to the homothallic non-conidiating lineages. The latter finding is likely due to the presence of conidia, i.e., a higher rate of mitotic divisions inducing mutations, and/or that the homothallic taxa have evolved a lower mutation rate to avoid genomic degeneration.
Copyright © 2011 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.