Rates of recombination vary considerably between species. Despite the significance of this observation for evolutionary biology and genetics, the evolutionary mechanisms that contribute to these interspecific differences are unclear. On fine physical scales, recombination rates appear to evolve rapidly between closely related species, but the mode and tempo of recombination rate evolution on the broader scale is poorly understood. Here, we use phylogenetic comparative methods to begin to characterize the evolutionary processes underlying average genomic recombination rates in mammals. We document a strong phylogenetic effect in recombination rates, indicating that more closely related species tend to have more similar average rates of recombination. We demonstrate that this phylogenetic signal is not an artifact of errors in recombination rate estimation and show that it is robust to uncertainty in the mammalian phylogeny. Neutral evolutionary models present good fits to the data and we find no evidence for heterogeneity in the rate of evolution in recombination across the mammalian tree. These results suggest that observed interspecific variation in average genomic rates of recombination is largely attributable to the steady accumulation of neutral mutations over evolutionary time. Although single recombination hotspots may live and die on short evolutionary time scales, the strong phylogenetic signal in genomic recombination rates indicates that the pace of evolution on this scale may be considerably slower.
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Vol. 62 • No. 2