Background: Scarabaeinae beetles show a high level of macro-chromosomal variability, although the karyotypic organization of heterochromatin and multigene families (rDNAs and histone genes) is poorly understood in this group. To better understand the chromosomal organization and evolution in this group, we analyzed the karyotypes, heterochromatin distribution and chromosomal locations of the rRNAs and histone H3 genes in beetles belonging to eight tribes from the Scarabaeinae subfamily (Coleoptera, Scarabaeidae).
Results: The number of 18S rRNA gene (a member of the 45S rDNA unit) sites varied from one to 16 and were located on the autosomes, sex chromosomes or both, although two clusters were most common. Comparison of the 45S rDNA cluster number and the diploid numbers revealed a low correlation value. However, a comparison between the number of 45S rDNA sites per genome and the quantity of heterochromatin revealed (i) species presenting heterochromatin restricted to the centromeric/pericentromeric region that contained few rDNA sites and (ii) species with a high quantity of heterochromatin and a higher number of rDNA sites. In contrast to the high variability for heterochromatin and 45S rDNA cluster, the presence of two clusters (one bivalent cluster) co-located on autosomal chromosomes with the 5S rRNA and histone H3 genes was highly conserved.
Conclusions: Our results indicate that the variability of the 45S rDNA chromosomal clusters is not associated with macro-chromosomal rearrangements but are instead related to the spread of heterochromatin. The data obtained also indicate that both heterochromatin and the 45S rDNA loci could be constrained by similar evolutionary forces regulating spreading in the distinct Scarabaeinae subfamily lineages. For the 5S rRNA and the histone H3 genes, a similar chromosomal organization could be attributed to their association/co-localization in the Scarabaeinae karyotypes. These data provide evidence that different evolutionary forces act at the heterochromatin and the 45S rDNA loci compared to the 5S rRNA and histone H3 genes during the evolution of the Scarabainae karyotypes.