Background: Transposable elements (TEs) are a major component of metazoan genomes and are associated with a variety of mechanisms that shape genome architecture and evolution. Despite the ever-growing number of insect genomes sequenced to date, our understanding of the diversity and evolution of insect TEs remains poor.
Results: Here, we present a standardized characterization and an order-level comparison of arthropod TE repertoires, encompassing 62 insect and 11 outgroup species. The insect TE repertoire contains TEs of almost every class previously described, and in some cases even TEs previously reported only from vertebrates and plants. Additionally, we identified a large fraction of unclassifiable TEs. We found high variation in TE content, ranging from less than 6% in the antarctic midge (Diptera), the honey bee and the turnip sawfly (Hymenoptera) to more than 58% in the malaria mosquito (Diptera) and the migratory locust (Orthoptera), and a possible relationship between the content and diversity of TEs and the genome size.
Conclusion: While most insect orders exhibit a characteristic TE composition, we also observed intraordinal differences, e.g., in Diptera, Hymenoptera, and Hemiptera. Our findings shed light on common patterns and reveal lineage-specific differences in content and evolution of TEs in insects. We anticipate our study to provide the basis for future comparative research on the insect TE repertoire.