Cladistics Part 1: Constructing Cladograms (2023)


Before we dive into learning about all the different kinds of animals, we have a little bit of work to do. How do we describe the relationships between animals? How does phylogeny work? We have to learn about cladistics, which means we have to learn how to build cladograms. What are those? Let's find out!

Script by Ryan Helcoski

Watch the whole Zoology playlist:

General Chemistry Tutorials:
Organic Chemistry Tutorials:
Biochemistry Tutorials:
Biology Tutorials:
Anatomy & Physiology Tutorials:
Microbiology Tutorials:
Botany Tutorials:


Check out "Is This Wi-Fi Organic?", my book on disarming pseudoscience!
Barnes and Noble:
Book Depository:


In the biology series, we learned about phylogeny and the tree of life.

This is the construct that allows us to describe the relatedness of every living organism in an evolutionary context.


We didn’t go into much detail about its precise.


What is implied by a branch? What is the relationship between organisms on the same branch, or adjacent branches? Before.

We revisit phylogeny in a much grander way.

We will want to dig into cladistics, so that we are equipped with some important.


Cladistics is a method of classifying organisms according to their common characteristics.

Cladograms are branching diagrams that show the relationships between clades.

Clades are the fundamental unit of phylogeny.

These are groups of organisms believed to have evolved from a common ancestor.

Let’s start by looking at a simple cladogram.

You can probably already draw some conclusions simply by looking at it.

For example.

You could probably realize that leopards and domestic cats are the only animals on the cladogram with retractable claws.


There’s a lot more to this, so.

Let’s take a closer look.

At, the very bottom of the cladogram.

You’ll see the word “hair”., Given its position below this second branch, we can conclude that all the organisms on the cladogram, except for tortoises, have hair.

This means that the tortoises are an outgroup.

They serve as a useful comparison for the animals in our study.

Like, all animals, tortoises do share common ancestry with the other animals in the cladogram.

The most recent of which is represented by this fork here, after which there is divergence., In fact, tortoises share many characteristics with mammals.

They have an internal skeleton.

They are amniotes that give birth to offspring on dry land.

They are four-limbed tetrapods, and the list continues.


We are not concerned with those shared characteristics in this particular cladogram.

We are only interested in animals with hair, which are referred to as mammals.

Again, since the word “hair” shows up right between the branches leading to tortoises and horses.

It means that this characteristic arose after the most recent common ancestry of these groups.

There are no tortoises in existence, either extant or in the fossil record, with hair.


The “hair” characteristic is shared by all the animals in the study group.

We call it an ancestral characteristic.

All animals in the “in group” share this characteristic.

It is, in fact, an ancestral characteristic of all mammals.

One quick note about ancestral characteristics and outgroups.


Some cladograms.

The ancestral characteristic is placed at the very base.

For example.

We could have chosen “backbone” as the ancestral characteristic.

If we had preferred.

As, we will come to see.

Cladograms are simply concept, maps., After, the word “hair”.

You’ll then see the word “carnivorous.” The horse lineage.

Branches off here.

This is because horses do not share that characteristic.

That is, horses are not part of the mammalian order “carnivora”, as wolves are.

However, horses do have hair, being members of mammalia.

So horses are more closely related to wolves than tortoises.


We are beginning to understand, an animal’s placement on a cladogram can help determine its relatedness to other animals.


We continue up the cladogram.

We see that the wolf, for example, is more closely related to the leopard than to the horse, and that the leopard is more closely related to the domestic cat than to the wolf.

This is fairly straightforward.

Each animal listed is more closely related to the animal on its right than on its left due to their more chronologically.

Recent common ancestry.

What is somewhat less intuitive is that it doesn’t always work in reverse., So, domestic cats, clearly, are more closely related to leopards than any other animal on the cladogram and leopards are more closely related to domestic cats than any other animal on the cladogram.


A horse is equally as related to a wolf as it is to a leopard.

And a tortoise is equally as related to a horse as it is a wolf.

Tortoises are not more closely related to horses than to leopards, even though the cladogram might make it look like.

They are.

The reason for this is that we can rewrite the cladogram any way we please as long as each species still has the correct characteristics.

For example, even though most cladograms are written with a single line and numerous branches, we could instead write the cladogram like this, using the same characteristics.

Notice that the domestic cat has the same characteristics, while the horses still only share the characteristic of hair.

This is because the domestic cat is the focus point of the cladogram.

So, tortoises are equally distantly related to all mammals.

They’re not closer to horses or cats or any other mammal in the cladogram.

To cement this, let’s rewrite the cladogram with new animals.

So it looks like this.


The horse is at the “top”.

And the domestic cat is closer to the “bottom.” Again.

This doesn’t mean anything about their evolution.

Horses, aren’t, “more evolved” than turtles or cats.

They’re just the animal that possesses the greatest number of the characteristics listed on this particular cladogram.

Each time, an animal branches off.

There is generally a characteristic listed that separates it from the others.

These are known as derived characteristics.

Derived characteristics, shared by all members of a clade are known as synapomorphies.

Going back to our original cladogram.

The ability to purr is a derived characteristic, or synapomorphy, that is possessed only by the domestic cat and no other animal on the cladogram.

Likewise, the animals in order carnivora, the wolf, leopard, and domestic cat, are the only animals in the cladogram with carnivorous, meat-eating teeth.

Now, let’s try building our own cladogram.

To build a cladogram.

You first start with the species.

You’re interested in studying, and then determine a list of evolutionary characteristics that separate them.

This table depicts the five organisms.

We will investigate, those being butterflies, frogs, humans, crocodiles, and birds, as well as four characteristics, those being the presence of a spine, amniotic eggs, diapsid skulls, and feathers.

We can also see which of these characteristics are present or absent for each organism.

To make the cladogram.

We observe which characteristics are more or less, commonly held., For example, butterflies are the only animals out of these that do not have a spine.


Let’s put butterfly on the first branch, and spine as the first characteristic.

Of, those remaining, the only one that does not utilize amniotic eggs is the frog.

So let’s put the frog next, and write amniotic eggs.


The rest is just the same.

Humans don’t have diapsid skulls.

So that’s next, and then crocodiles do not have feathers while birds do, which puts them at the focus point.

So, clearly, the birds and crocodiles are the most closely related, while the butterflies are an outgroup.

Looking at the cladogram.

You may have some questions.

Why, for example, didn’t.

We use the characteristic of “flight” to separate the birds from the crocodiles? Well.

It is true that this is a derived characteristic of birds, but butterflies are also capable of flight, since insects.

Convergently evolved the same characteristic.

So it wouldn’t be a good fit for the cladogram since you could accidently group the birds and butterflies, together.


We didn’t use the characteristic “warm-blooded”.

This is because both humans and birds are endotherms, but crocodiles are not endotherms, even though crocodiles are more closely related to birds than to humans.


And birds are both part of the clade of animals known as archosaurs, which also includes the dinosaurs.

This is because they share more recent common ancestry with each other than any other animals in the cladogram.

So, both “flight” and “warm blood” are examples of convergent evolution, the process by which different organisms, independently evolve, similar traits.


What we’re doing when we build a cladogram is trying to put closely-related animals into distinct clades., You could potentially build a cladogram for any set of organisms as long as you know, a bit about their evolutionary histories, as well as their shared and derived characteristics.


This concept understood, let’s move forward and learn more about cladistics.


What is a cladogram answer key? ›

What is a cladogram? It is a diagram that depicts evolutionary relationships among groups. It is based on PHYLOGENY, which is the study of evolutionary relationships. Sometimes a cladogram is called a phylogenetic tree (though technically, there are minor differences between the two).

How are cladograms being constructed? ›

Cladograms are constructed by grouping organisms together based on their shared derived characteristics.

What is the first thing to do in building a cladogram? ›

Follow these simple steps to construct a cladogram:
  • Identify separate groups. For example, the groups could be cats, dogs, birds, reptiles, and fish.
  • Make a list or table of characteristics. ...
  • It's helpful to group organisms before drawing the cladogram. ...
  • Draw the cladogram.
Jan 10, 2020

What is the first step in constructing a cladogram using outgroup analysis? ›

For making a cladogram, first, choose four or six organisms from the same order or family. 2. Choose an ancestral and a derived trait that will help to link the animal with the other in the outgroup.

What are the basics of cladogram? ›

A cladogram will begin by grouping organisms based on a characteristic displayed by all the members of the group. Subsequently, the larger group, or clade, will contain increasingly smaller groups (clades) that share the traits of the clades before them, but also exhibit distinct changes as the organism evolves.

When constructing a cladogram you should use? ›

The correct answer: When designing a cladogram of a group, you would use b) derived characters. The cladograms are derived based on determining the derived characters in the species organisms.

How are phylogenetic trees and cladograms constructed? ›

A phylogenetic tree may be built using morphological (body shape), biochemical, behavioral, or molecular features of species or other groups. In building a tree, we organize species into nested groups based on shared derived traits (traits different from those of the group's ancestor).

What is a cladogram and how is it constructed? ›

Cladograms are constructed on the basis of phenotypic, observable traits or on molecular evidence in the form of DNA or RNA. A cladogram shows the evolutionary relationships between organisms. Those most closely located on the cladogram form a clade.

What is a cladogram diagram? ›

A cladogram is a diagram that shows relationships between species. These relationships are based on observable physical characteristics. Cladograms show the relationships in a graphic that looks like a tree, with branches connected to a common ancestry.

What are the 5 animals for a cladogram? ›

They are then walked through the process of creating a cladogram for five animal examples: frog, fish, bird, koala, and lizard. The process involves suggesting traits that these animals share and finding traits that are unique to determine outgroups.

What is Cladistics answers? ›

Cladistics is a system of taxonomy in which the organisms are classified into clades (groups) based on collective characteristics and having common ancestry. Cladistics is used for classifying organisms and establishing evolutionary relationships between them.

Why is it called a cladogram? ›

A cladogram illustrates hypothetical relationships between species based on traits. It's called a cladogram because a group of related organisms (including living organisms and their common ancestors) is called a clade.

What is the first step in cladistic analysis? ›

The first step in cladistic analysis is to gather data on the characteristics of the organisms being studied. This data is then used to construct a matrix, which is a table that lists the organisms being studied and their characteristics.

How do you identify a clade on a cladogram? ›

It's easy to identify a clade using a phylogenetic tree. Just imagine clipping any single branch off the tree. All the lineages on that branch form a clade. If you have to make more than one cut to separate a group of organisms from the rest of the tree, that group does not form a clade.

Does the order of a cladogram matter? ›

The order of A and B, as well as the orientation of the lines, does not matter. A cladogram may be drawn left to right, right to left, top to bottom, or bottom to top. Some large cladograms are even fashioned in a circle to include all the groups they represent.

What are the three types of cladogram? ›

The three major types are: monophyletic, paraphyletic and polyphyletic. Monophyletic means one clade, paraphyletic means around one clade and polyphyletic means many clades. Lastly, we talked about how to build a cladogram based on a characteristic chart.

What is the purpose of using an outgroup when constructing a cladogram? ›

The outgroup on a cladogram is an organism that is distantly related to the rest of the organisms on the cladogram. The outgroup helps to root the tree as it is often taken to represent the basal state from which the organisms in the cladogram then evolved.

Why is the cladogram important? ›

Cladograms give us a framework for understanding how groups of organisms evolved, how rapidly they evolved, and how their evolutionary history relates to the earth's changing climate and geography.

What causes a branch in a cladogram? ›

Answer and Explanation: A new branch in a cladogram is given when a new trait arises that sets apart those organisms from the rest of the clade. A clade is a group of organisms that share a common ancestor.

What is the conclusion of a cladogram? ›

Conclusion. Cladograms show common ancestry but not the amount of time between an ancestor and a descendant group in evolutionary terms. A cladogram is made up of lines that branch out in various directions before arriving at a clade, which is a group of species that have a common ancestor.

Can DNA be used to construct a cladogram? ›

Today, similarities in DNA sequences among organisms can also be used to draw cladograms. The organisms in each clade are characterized by shared, similar features that they do not share with any other organisms in the cladogram.

What type of data is used to create a cladogram? ›

Molecular versus morphological data

The characteristics used to create a cladogram can be roughly categorized as either morphological (synapsid skull, warm blooded, notochord, unicellular, etc.) or molecular (DNA, RNA, or other genetic information).

What does a cladogram phylogenetic tree show? ›

A cladogram is a diagram which shows the relationship between different organisms based on their different similarities. A phylogenetic tree is a diagram which shows the phylogenetic history of organisms with respect to the geological time scale.

What do the lines in cladograms represent? ›

3. What are the lines of a cladogram called and what do they represent? The lines of a cladogram are known as lineages, often referred to simply as “branches.” Lineages represent the sequence of ancestral-descendant populations through time, ultimately denoting descent.

What is an example sentence for cladogram? ›

These clusters were distinct in the cladogram (not shown here), which depicts the inferred historical relationships (cladogenesis) among grape cultivars. The strengths of this argument are the congruence of the tectonic history, area cladograms and evolution of the relevant snail lineages.

What are the three types of cladograms? ›

The three major types are: monophyletic, paraphyletic and polyphyletic. Monophyletic means one clade, paraphyletic means around one clade and polyphyletic means many clades. Lastly, we talked about how to build a cladogram based on a characteristic chart.

What are two things a cladogram Cannot tell you? ›

Cladograms and phylogenetic trees are functionally very similar, but they show different things. Cladograms do not indicate time or the amount of difference between groups, whereas phylogenetic trees often indicate time spans between branching points.

What are the steps in cladistic analysis? ›

Cladistic analysis consists of three processes: selection of characters, coding of characters and development of a cladogram to explain the evolutionary relationships among the taxa.

Why is cladogram important? ›

One of the best ways to show the interrelationships of species is to use a tree-like branching diagram known as a cladogram. Groups of interrelated species that share a common ancestor are called clades. Reconstructing evolutionary trees is an important step in learning the evolutionary history of species.

Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Tyson Zemlak

Last Updated: 25/11/2023

Views: 5231

Rating: 4.2 / 5 (43 voted)

Reviews: 82% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Tyson Zemlak

Birthday: 1992-03-17

Address: Apt. 662 96191 Quigley Dam, Kubview, MA 42013

Phone: +441678032891

Job: Community-Services Orchestrator

Hobby: Coffee roasting, Calligraphy, Metalworking, Fashion, Vehicle restoration, Shopping, Photography

Introduction: My name is Tyson Zemlak, I am a excited, light, sparkling, super, open, fair, magnificent person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.