Monophyletic vs. Paraphyletic

By Jaxson

Main Difference

The main difference between Monophyletic and Paraphyletic is that the Monophyletic is a condition of being monophyletic, of including all descendants from a given ancestral species and Paraphyletic is a term used in cladistic analysis.

  • Monophyletic

    In cladistics, a monophyletic group is a group of organisms that forms a clade, which consists of all the descendants of a common ancestor. Monophyletic groups are typically characterised by shared derived characteristics (synapomorphies), which distinguish organisms in the clade from other organisms. The arrangement of the members of a monophyletic group is called a monophyly.

    Monophyly is contrasted with paraphyly and polyphyly as shown in the second diagram. A paraphyletic group consists of all of the descendants of a common ancestor minus one or more monophyletic groups. That is, a paraphyletic group is ‘nearly’ monophyletic, hence the prefix ‘para’, meaning ‘near’. A polyphyletic group is characterized by convergent features or habits of scientific interest (for example, night-active primates, fruit trees, aquatic insects). The features by which a polyphyletic group is differentiated from others are not inherited from a common ancestor.

    These definitions have taken some time to be accepted. When the cladistics school of thought became mainstream in the 1960s, several alternative definitions were in use. Indeed, taxonomists sometimes used terms without defining them, leading to confusion in the early literature, a confusion which persists.

    The first diagram shows a phylogenetic tree with two monophyletic groups. The several groups and subgroups are particularly situated as branches of the tree to indicate ordered lineal relationships between all the organisms shown. Further, any group may (or may not) be considered a taxon by modern systematics, depending upon the selection of its members in relation to their common ancestor(s); see second and third diagrams.

  • Paraphyletic

    In taxonomy, a group is paraphyletic if it consists of the group’s last common ancestor and all descendants of that ancestor excluding a few—typically only one or two—monophyletic subgroups. The group is said to be paraphyletic with respect to the excluded subgroups. The arrangement of the members of a paraphyletic group is called a paraphyly. The term is commonly used in phylogenetics (a subfield of biology) and in linguistics.

    The term was coined to apply to well-known taxa like Reptilia (reptiles) which, as commonly named and traditionally defined, is paraphyletic with respect to mammals and birds. Reptilia contains the last common ancestor of reptiles and all descendants of that ancestor—including all extant reptiles as well as the extinct synapsids—except for mammals and birds. Other commonly recognized paraphyletic groups include fish, monkeys and lizards.

    If many subgroups are missing from the named group, it is said to be polyparaphyletic. A paraphyletic group cannot be a clade, which is a monophyletic group.

  • Monophyletic (adjective)

    Of, pertaining to, or affecting a single phylum (or other taxon) of organisms.

  • Monophyletic (adjective)

    Deriving from a single clade (monophylum).

  • Monophyletic (adjective)

    Descending from a single ancestral species.

  • Monophyletic (adjective)

    Descending from a single ancestral species and containing all descendants of that single ancestor, holophyletic.

  • Paraphyletic (adjective)

    Of a defined group of taxa, not including all descendants of the common ancestor of all members.


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