Short Review

Heredity (2007) 98, 189–197. doi:10.1038/sj.hdy.6800950

Variation in genomic recombination rates among animal taxa and the case of social insects

L Wilfert1, J Gadau2 and P Schmid-Hempel1

  1. 1Department of Ecology and Evolution, ETH Zürich, Institute of Integrative Biology (IBZ), ETH-Zentrum CHN, Zürich, Switzerland
  2. 2Social Insect Research Group, School of Life Sciences, University of Arizona, Tempe, AZ, USA

Correspondence: Dr L Wilfert, ETH Zürich, Institute of Integrative Biology (IBZ), ETH-Zentrum CHN, Universitätsstrasse 16, CH-8092 Zürich, Switzerland. E-mail:

Received 16 August 2006; Revised 8 December 2006; Accepted 26 January 2007.



Meiotic recombination is almost universal among sexually reproducing organisms. Because the process leads to the destruction of successful parental allele combinations and the creation of novel, untested genotypes for offspring, the evolutionary forces responsible for the origin and maintenance of this counter-intuitive process are still enigmatic. Here, we have used newly available genetic data to compare genome-wide recombination rates in a report on recombination rates among different taxa. In particular, we find that among the higher eukaryotes exceptionally high rates are found in social Hymenoptera. The high rates are compatible with current hypotheses suggesting that sociality in insects strongly selects for increased genotypic diversity in worker offspring to either meet the demands of a sophisticated caste system or to mitigate against the effects of parasitism. Our findings might stimulate more detailed research for the comparative study of recombination frequencies in taxa with different life histories or ecological settings and so help to understand the causes for the evolution and maintenance of this puzzling process.


recombination, karyotype, multiple mating, parasites, division of labour



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