Variability in the way organisms reproduce raises numerous, and still unsolved, questions in evolutionary biology. In this study, we emphasize that fungi deserve a much greater emphasis in efforts to address these questions because of their multiple advantages as model eukaryotes. A tremendous diversity of reproductive modes and mating systems can be found in fungi, with many evolutionary transitions among closely related species. In addition, fungi show some peculiarities in their mating systems that have received little attention so far, despite the potential for providing insights into important evolutionary questions. In particular, selfing can occur at the haploid stage in addition to the diploid stage in many fungi, which is generally not possible in animals and plants but has a dramatic influence upon the structure of genetic systems. Fungi also present several advantages that make them tractable models for studies in experimental evolution. Here, we briefly review the unsolved questions and extant hypotheses about the evolution and maintenance of asexual vs. sexual reproduction and of selfing vs. outcrossing, focusing on fungal life cycles. We then propose how fungi can be used to address these long-standing questions and advance our understanding of sexual reproduction and mating systems across all eukaryotes.
© 2012 The Authors. Journal of Evolutionary Biology © 2012 European Society For Evolutionary Biology.