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Phylogenetic Classification

Introduces classification based on evolutionary history.

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Phylogenetic Classification *

Can two different species be related?

Of course they can. For example, there are many different species of mammals, or of one type of mammal, such as mice. And they are all related. In other words, how close or how far apart did they separate from a common ancestor during evolution? Determining how different species are evolutionarily related can be a tremendous task.


(8)  Science concepts. The student knows that taxonomy is a branching classification based on the shared characteristics of organisms and can change as new discoveries are made. The student is expected to:

(A)  define taxonomy and recognize the importance of a standardized taxonomic system to the scientific community;

(B)  categorize organisms using a hierarchical classification system based on similarities and differences shared among groups;

(C)  compare characteristics of taxonomic groups, including archaea, bacteria, protists, fungi, plants, and animals.

Lesson Objectives

  1. Students will be introduced to the concept of phylogeny.
  2. Students will learn to construct a cladogram showing the evolutionary relationship between organisms.

Phylogenetic Classification

The following video introduce you to Phylogenetic: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fQwI90bkJl4.

Linnaeus classified organisms based on obvious physical traits. Basically, organisms were grouped together if they looked alike. After Darwin published his theory of evolution in the 1800s, scientists looked for a way to classify organisms that showed phylogeny. Phylogeny is the evolutionary history of a group of related organisms. It is represented by a phylogenetic tree, like the one in Figure below.

Phylogenetic Tree. This phylogenetic tree shows how three hypothetical species are related to each other through common ancestors. Do you see why Species 1 and 2 are more closely related to each other than either is to Species 3?

One way of classifying organisms that shows phylogeny is by using the clade. A clade is a group of organisms that includes an ancestor and all of its descendants. Clades are based on cladistics. The fallowing video talks about Cladograms: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ouZ9zEkxGWg.


This is a method of comparing traits in related species to determine ancestor-descendant relationships. Clades are represented by cladograms, like the one in Figure below. This cladogram represents the mammal and reptile clades. The reptile clade includes birds. It shows that birds evolved from reptiles. Linnaeus classified mammals, reptiles, and birds in separate classes. This masks their evolutionary relationships.

This cladogram classifies mammals, reptiles, and birds in clades based on their evolutionary relationships.


  • Phylogeny is the evolutionary history of group of related organisms. It is represented by a phylogenetic tree that shows how species are related to each other through common ancestors.
  • A clade is a group of organisms that includes an ancestor and all of its descendants. It is a phylogenetic classification, based on evolutionary relationships.

Practice I

Use this resource to answer the questions that follow.

  • (Resource under construction) http://www.hippocampus.org/Biology \begin{align*}\rightarrow\end{align*} Biology for AP* \begin{align*}\rightarrow\end{align*} Search: Constructing Phylogenetic Trees
  1. Describe how convergence can confuse taxonomists.
  2. What are the purposes of a phylogenetic tree and a cladogram? What is the difference between them?
  3. What is the relationship between a clade and a taxon?
  4. What is an ancestral trait? How is such a trait used to build a cladogram?
  5. Distinguish between homologous and analogous structures.
  6. Humans are most closely related to which of the following: goldfish, lizard, or dog?

Practice II

  • Create a cladogram poster.   Use the following organisms to create the cladogram; insects, fishes, amphibians, birds, frogs, reptiles, monkeys, and humans   Organize them on a cladogram based on their derived characteristics.  Label the evolutionary milestones.


  1. What is a clade?
  2. What is cladistics, and what is it used for?
  3. Explain why reptiles and birds are placed in the same clade.
  4. Dogs and wolves are more closely related to each other than either is to cats. Draw a phylogenetic tree to show these relationships.

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