Opinions on Clade

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For other uses, see Clade (disambiguation).

A clade (from Ancient Greek: κλάδος, klados, "branch") or monophylum (see monophyletic) is a life-form group consisting of a common ancestor and all its descendants—representing a single "branch" on the "tree of life".

The common ancestor may be an individual, a population or even a species (extinct or extant). Clades are nested, one in another, as each branch in turn splits into smaller branches. These splits reflect evolutionary history as populations diverged and evolved independently.

Many commonly named groups are clades, for example, rodents, or insects; because in each case, their name comprises a common ancestor with all its descendant branches. Rodents, for example, are a branch of mammals that split off after the end of the dinosaurs 66 million years ago. The original population and all its descendants are a clade. The rodent clade corresponds to the order Rodentia, and insects to the class Insecta. These clades include smaller clades, such as "chipmunk" or "ant," each of which comprises even smaller clades. The clade "rodent" is in turn included in the mammal, vertebrate and animal clades.

Often, however, common words for kinds of living things name only part of a clade. "Lizards" is not a clade, and neither is "monkeys". Snakes are a clade, and lizards and snakes together make a bigger clade, but "lizard" excludes snakes based on anatomy. Snakes are still part of that clade even though they have evolved to look different. The term "lizard" puts geckos and Gila monsters in the same category but excludes snakes. Since Gila monsters are more closely related to snakes than they are to geckos, the term "lizard" does not name a clade. In the same way, "monkeys" is not a clade because it excludes apes. Apes are more closely related to Old World monkeys than they are to New World monkeys, so any clade big enough to include New World and Old World monkeys has to include apes, too. Finally, many definitive clades lack common terms for them. For example, there is no term for the clade that includes all monkeys and apes (humans included). Terms such as "vertebrate" and "mammal" resulted from modern taxonomy, since folk taxonomy did not have terms for these clades.

Increasingly, taxonomists try to avoid naming taxa that are not clades.


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