Phylogenetic tree used in analysis from Variation in recombination frequency and distribution across eukaryotes: patterns and processes

Recombination, the exchange of DNA between maternal and paternal chromosomes during meiosis, is an essential feature of sexual reproduction in nearly all multicellular organisms. While the role of recombination in the evolution of sex has received theoretical and empirical attention, less is known about how the recombination rate <i>itself</i> evolves and what influence this has on evolutionary processes within sexually reproducing organisms. Here, we explore the patterns of, and processes governing recombination in eukaryotes. We summarize patterns of variation, integrating current knowledge with analysis of linkage map data in 353 organisms. We then discuss proximate and ultimate processes governing recombination rate variation and consider how these influence evolutionary processes. Genome-wide recombination (cM/Mb) rates can vary more than tenfold across eukaryotes, and there is large variation in the distribution of recombination events across closely related taxa, populations and individuals. We discuss how variation in rate and distribution relates to genome architecture, genetic and epigenetic mechanisms, sex, environmental perturbations and variable selective pressures. There has been great progress in determining the molecular mechanisms governing recombination, and with the continued development of new modelling and empirical approaches, there is now also great opportunity to further our understanding of how and why the recombination rate varies.This article is part of the themed issue ‘Evolutionary causes and consequences of recombination rate variation in sexual organisms’.