Background: The bumblebee Bombus terrestris is an ecologically and economically important pollinator and has become an important biological model system. To study fundamental evolutionary questions at the genomic level, a high resolution genetic linkage map is an essential tool for analyses ranging from quantitative trait loci (QTL) mapping to genome assembly and comparative genomics. We here present a saturated linkage map and match it with the Apis mellifera genome using homologous markers. This genome-wide comparison allows insights into structural conservations and rearrangements and thus the evolution on a chromosomal level.
Results: The high density linkage map covers ~ 93% of the B. terrestris genome on 18 linkage groups (LGs) and has a length of 2'047 cM with an average marker distance of 4.02 cM. Based on a genome size of ~ 430 Mb, the recombination rate estimate is 4.76 cM/Mb. Sequence homologies of 242 homologous markers allowed to match 15 B. terrestris with A. mellifera LGs, five of them as composites. Comparing marker orders between both genomes we detect over 14% of the genome to be organized in synteny and 21% in rearranged blocks on the same homologous LG.
Conclusions: This study demonstrates that, despite the very high recombination rates of both A. mellifera and B. terrestris and a long divergence time of about 100 million years, the genomes' genetic architecture is highly conserved. This reflects a slow genome evolution in these bees. We show that data on genome organization and conserved molecular markers can be used as a powerful tool for comparative genomics and evolutionary studies, opening up new avenues of research in the Apidae.