Sex ratio and gamete size across eastern North America inDictyostelium discoideum,a social amoeba with three sexes

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Abstract

Theory indicates that numbers of mating types should tend towards infinity or remain at two. The social amoeba, Dictyostelium discoideum, however, has three mating types. It is therefore a mystery how this species has broken the threshold of two mating types, but has not increased towards a much higher number. Frequency-dependent selection on rare types in combination with isogamy, a form of reproduction involving gametes similar in size, could explain the evolution of multiple mating types in this system. Other factors, such as drift, may be preventing the evolution of more than three. We first looked for evidence of isogamy by measuring gamete size associated with each type. We found no evidence of size dissimilarities between gametes. We then looked for evidence of balancing selection, by examining mating type distributions in natural populations and comparing genetic differentiation at the mating type locus to that at more neutral loci. We found that mating type frequency varied among the three populations we examined, with only one of the three showing an even sex ratio, which does not support balancing selection. However, we found more population structure at neutral loci than the mating type locus, suggesting that the three mating types are indeed maintained at intermediate frequencies by balancing selection. Overall, the data are consistent with balancing selection acting on D. discoideum mating types, but with a sufficiently weak rare sex advantage to allow for drift, a potential explanation for why these amoebae have only three mating types.

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