Systematics Phylogenetic Systematics

Cladistics: Phylogenetic Systematics

Phylogeny and Systematics
   History of systematics
      The Great Chain of Being
      Linnaean taxonomy
      The Tree of Life
      Evolutionary systematics
      Molecular phylogeny
      Stratigraphy and phylogeny

   Cladistics - An Introduction
      Definition: Cladogram
      Definition: Monophyly
      Definition: Paraphyly
      Definition: Polyphyly
   Phylogenetic Systematics
   Pattern cladistics
   Cladistics and Paleontology
   Computational cladistics

Cladogram of Cetartiodactyla

A modern cladogram. Strict consensus of 20 minimum length trees for the equally-weighted parsimony analysis of the combined data set (57,269 steps). The contents of 12 taxonomic groups, including the total clades Cetaceamorpha and Cetancodontamorpha are delimited by different colored boxes ('Hippo' = Hippopotamidamorpha). Lineages that connect extant taxa in the tree are represented by thick gray branches, and wholly extinct lineages are shown as thin black branches. Estimates of branch support scores are above internodes; given the complexity of the data set, these should be interpreted as maximum estimates.

Caption and diagram from Spaulding et al 2009, fig.2, Illustrations are by C. Buell and L. Betti-Nash. Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic license, via wikipedia

Cladogram - a definition

A cladogram is a phylogenetic tree made up of dichotomous branches, with groups of organisms or individual species represented as terminals (the ends of each branch). Each branching point, or node represents divergence from a hypothetical common ancestor, and is defined in terms of shared characteristics inhereted from that ancestor. A cladogram is not a literal evolutionary tree, but a way of representing phylogenetic hypothesis, regarding the way living organisms are related to each other. Each branch derived from that node is considered a natural grouping, and called a clade. Every clade has to be monophyletic, that is, it has to derive from a single ancetsor, and must include every descendent. Nodes do not represent actual ancestral taxa. Were an actual ancestor to be included it would ideally appear (if the cladogram is correct in this regard) as the sister taxon of the sub-clade that includes all its descendants.

Originally, cladograms used Hennigian methodology, and were based on immediately apparent synapomorphies and the simplest branching order (called parsimony). Although easy to draw they were difficult to quantify, as distinguishing a synapomorphy unique to that clade from a shared primitive state or an evolutionary convergence may be problematic.

From the 1990s onwards, cladograms have tended to become bigger and more complex, as powerful computers make it possible to run cladistic analyses using hundreds of traits and taxa, plotted in supermatrixes. Emphasis shifts from a few easily recognised synapomorphies to large arrays of quantifiable data, statistically analysed in terms of parsimony or likelihood (which may not be the same). A lot depends on how statistically robust the actual branches are. Although some clades are robust, others may not be, for example, including or deleting a few taxa or character states can change the shape (topology) of the entire cladogram. The current trend in cladistics is to incorporate data from molecular sequencing; these total evidence cladograms are important in phylogenetics

Cladograms and other branching diagrams

As a result of the cladistic and phylogenetic revolutions, cladograms have almost entirely replaced Haeckelian and Evolutionary trees in textbooks and popular science books. A distinction should be mnade however between the three superficially similar dichotomous branching diagrams: the chronogram, the cladogram, the dendrogram, the phenogram, and the phylogram.


contact us

page MAK130417. Material by MAK is Creative Commons License. Cladogram and description © The Palaeontological Association.