follow up on paraphyly / polyphyly

Dr. James Adams jadams at EM.DALTONSTATE.EDU
Wed Nov 10 16:42:12 CST 2004


>Monophyly: a natural group
>Paraphyly: a natural but incomplete group
>Polyphyly: an unnatural group

Ah yes.  I was waiting to see this.  Actually, it ain't bad.

I believe "natural" in this context means including the ancestor;
"complete" means including all descendents.

For instance, most people know what you mean when you say reptiles -- this
includes several extant lineages, and also many extinct lineages, including
the "initial reptilian ancestor" (whatever that was), but *not* all of the
descendents -- hence, reptiles are paraphyletic.  If it was monophyletic,
then a hairy reptile typed this, and feathery reptiles are flying past my

I don't personally have a major problem with using paraphyletic groups, as
long as we understand they are paraphyletic and define them as such.

On the other hand, if you were to group birds and mammals together in a
classification, this would be polyphyletic, as there is no common ancestor
for just these two groups that you can point at, without going into the
reptiles.  You can't include the ancestor for this grouping because there
*isn't* an immediate past common ancestor.

This is how I was taught and understand the terms -- let me know if this
does not make sense.


James K. Adams
jadams at
Phone: (706)272-4427
FAX:  (706)272-2235
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