Cladogram: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:02 Cladogram and Cladistics
  • 1:48 What Is a Cladogram?
  • 2:48 Cladogram Examples
  • 4:01 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jeremy Battista

Jeremy has a master of science degree in education.

There are many different types of graphs in science. Oftentimes, when we see the suffix 'gram' it is referring to a chart or graph. A cladogram is just that. It is a chart that we use to better understand ourselves and our ancestors as you will see here.

Cladogram and Cladistics

A cladogram is a chart that is composed of many different clades or branches. Don't worry - we'll explain that sentence in more detail in a minute. A cladogram might remind you of a family tree since it too has many different branches, but it's set up in a slightly different format than a typical tree. It functions similarly to a family tree since the organisms listed are all related, but it is much more than just that.

Cladistics is a branch of scientific classification that deals with the organization of related organisms based on their last common ancestors. Scientists look at an organism's features and see how closely they are related to other organisms based on features found in recent ancestors (rather than ancient ones). When cladistics first came about, researchers would look at the morphological (physical features) data of organisms. As science has progressed, we now look at the DNA sequencing data as this can tell a story not seen be physical features.

When we look at cladistics, we find that the closer the ancestor is to a group, the more closely they are related. When we begin to chart these closely-related organisms, we start to form clades. A clade is a small branch or section in cladistics used to chart connections between organisms. It does so by connecting an organism to its particular ancestors or descendants.

A clade is monophyletic, which means it refers to only one phylum, so it only includes one particular type of organism and its descendants. Scientists use these to better organize and understand whatever particular part of taxonomy they're looking at. They will also put clades together to form what we call a cladogram.

What Is A Cladogram?

As stated earlier, a cladogram is a chart that shows many different clades combined. Separately, each of these clades represents one particular kind of organism and its closest ancestors. Together, however, these paint a picture of how intertwined organisms can really be. The cladogram allows us to see how evolution has changed us from single-celled organisms into the complex humans we are today.

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