Do Botanophila flies provide reproductive isolation between two species of Epichloe fungi? A field test

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P>Epichloe spp., fungal endophytes of cool season grasses, produce collars of mycelium (stromata) on host stems that Botanophila flies visit for egg laying. Flies transfer fungal gametes among stromata and thereby serve to cross-fertilize fungi. Hence, the interaction is analogous to insect pollination in angiosperms. While most Epichloe species are not interfertile, Epichloe typhina and Epichloe clarkii can hybridize. We investigated whether Botanophila flies play a role in the reproductive isolation of the two Epichloe species at a field site in southwestern Switzerland. We estimated the density of stromata and collected fly larvae and stromata occurring on plants. While most ascospores collected from both species indicated intraspecific mating, 9.3% of fungal fruiting bodies contained spores of hybrid origin. Two species of Botanophila larvae occurred on stromata and both preferred E. typhina. Yet, both fly species laid eggs on both fungal species. While preferences by Botanophila flies should influence reproductive isolation between the fungi, other mechanisms are likely more important. Our data, which show hybrid ascospores are produced, suggest postzygotic isolating mechanisms are an important means of reproductive isolation.