Symbiotic status alters fungal eco-evolutionary offspring trajectories

Despite host-fungal symbiotic interactions being ubiquitous in all ecosystems, understanding how symbiosis has shaped the ecology and evolution of fungal spores that are involved in dispersal and colonization of their hosts has been ignored in life-history studies. We assembled a spore morphology database covering over 26,000 species of free-living to symbiotic fungi of plants, insects and humans and found more than eight orders of variation in spore size. Evolutionary transitions in symbiotic status correlated with shifts in spore size, but the strength of this effect varied widely among phyla. Symbiotic status explained more variation than climatic variables in the current distribution of spore sizes of plant-associated fungi at a global scale while the dispersal potential of their spores is more restricted compared to free-living fungi. Our work advances life-history theory by highlighting how the interaction between symbiosis and offspring morphology shapes the reproductive and dispersal strategies among living forms.