BACKGROUND: Durum wheat (Triticum durum Desf.) is a tetraploid cereal grown in the medium to low-precipitation areas of the Mediterranean Basin, North America and South-West Asia. Genomics applications in durum wheat have the potential to boost exploitation of genetic resources and to advance understanding of the genetics of important complex traits (e.g. resilience to environmental and biotic stresses). A dense and accurate consensus map specific for T. durum will greatly facilitate genetic mapping, functional genomics and marker-assisted improvement. RESULTS: High quality genotypic data from six core recombinant inbred line populations were used to obtain a consensus framework map of 598 simple sequence repeats (SSR) and Diversity Array Technology® (DArT) anchor markers (common across populations). Interpolation of unique markers from 14 maps allowed us to position a total of 2,575 markers in a consensus map of 2,463 cM. The T. durum A and B genomes were covered in their near totality based on the reference SSR hexaploid wheat map. The consensus locus order compared to those of the single component maps showed good correspondence, (average Spearman's rank correlation rho ρ value of 0.96). Differences in marker order and local recombination rate were observed between the durum and hexaploid wheat consensus maps. The consensus map was used to carry out a whole-genome search for genetic differentiation signatures and association to heading date in a panel of 183 accessions adapted to the Mediterranean areas. Linkage disequilibrium was found to decay below the r2 threshold=0.3 within 2.20 cM, on average. Strong molecular differentiations among sub-populations were mapped to 87 chromosome regions. A genome-wide association scan for heading date from 27 field trials in the Mediterranean Basin and in Mexico yielded 50 chromosome regions with evidences of association in multiple environments. CONCLUSIONS: The consensus map presented here was used as a reference for genetic diversity and mapping analyses in T. durum, providing nearly complete genome coverage and even marker density. Markers previously mapped in hexaploid wheat constitute a strong link between the two species. The consensus map provides the basis for high-density single nucleotide polymorphic (SNP) marker implementation in durum wheat.