Common sex-linked deleterious alleles in a plant parasitic fungus alter infection success but show no pleiotropic advantage

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Microbotryum violaceum is a fungus that causes the sterilizing anther smut disease in Caryophyllaceae. Its diploid teliospores normally produce equal proportions of haploid sporidia of its two mating types. However natural populations contain high frequencies of individuals producing sporidia of only one mating type (‘biased strains’). This mating type-ratio bias is caused by deleterious alleles at haploid phase (‘haplo-lethals’) linked to the mating type locus that can be transmitted only by intra-tetrad selfing. We used experimental inoculations to test some of the hypotheses proposed to explain the maintenance of haplo-lethals. We found a disadvantage of biased strains in infection ability and high intra-tetrad mating rates. Biased strains had no higher competitive ability nor shorter latency and their higher spore production per flower appeared insufficient to compensate their disadvantages. These findings were only consistent with the hypothesis that haplo-lethals are maintained under a metapopulation structure because of high intra-tetrad selfing rates, founder effects and selection at the population level.

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