Changes in gene regulation that underlie phenotypic evolution can be encoded directly in the DNA sequence or mediated by chromatin modifications such as DNA methylation. It has been hypothesized that the evolution of eusocial division of labor is associated with enhanced gene regulatory potential, which may include expansions in DNA methylation in the genomes of Hymenoptera (bees, ants, wasps, and sawflies). Recently, this hypothesis garnered support from analyses of a commonly used metric to estimate DNA methylation in silico, CpG content. Here, we test this hypothesis using direct, nucleotide-level measures of DNA methylation across nine species of Hymenoptera. In doing so, we generated new DNA methylomes for three species of interest, including one solitary and one facultatively eusocial halictid bee and a sawfly. We demonstrate that the strength of correlation between CpG content and DNA methylation varies widely among hymenopteran taxa, highlighting shortcomings in the utility of CpG content as a proxy for DNA methylation in comparative studies of taxa with sparse DNA methylomes. We observed strikingly high levels of DNA methylation in the sawfly relative to other investigated hymenopterans. Analyses of molecular evolution suggest the relatively distinct sawfly DNA methylome may be associated with positive selection on functional DNMT3 domains. Sawflies are an outgroup to all ants, bees, and wasps, and no sawfly species are eusocial. We find no evidence that either global expansions or variation within individual ortholog groups in DNA methylation are consistently associated with the evolution of social behavior.

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Published in Genome Biology and Evolution, v. 9, issue 6, p. 1687-1698.

© The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution.

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/), which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. For commercial re-use, please contact journals.permissions@oup.com

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This project has been deposited at Gene Expression Omnibus under the accession GSE93893.

Supplementary data are available at Genome Biology and Evolution online.

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Glastad_GBE_evx128.pdf (2382 kB)
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