Evolutionary taxonomy, evolutionary systematics or Darwinian classification is a branch of biological classification that seeks to classify organisms using a combination of phylogenetic relationship (shared descent), progenitor-descendant relationship (serial descent), and degree of evolutionary change.
The concept found its most well-known form in the modern evolutionary synthesis of the early 1940s.
Evolutionary taxonomy differs from strict pre-Darwinian Linnaean taxonomy (producing orderly lists only), in that it builds evolutionary trees.
While in phylogenetic nomenclature each taxon must consist of a single ancestral node and all its descendants, evolutionary taxonomy allows for groups to be excluded from their parent taxa (e.g. dinosaurs are not considered to include birds, but to have given rise to them), thus permitting paraphyletic taxa.
Origin of evolutionary taxonomy
The idea of translating Linnaean taxonomy into a sort of dendrogram of the Animal and Plant Kingdoms was formulated toward the end of the 18th century, well before Charles Darwin's book On the Origin of Species was published.
The first to suggest that organisms had common descent was Pierre-Louis Moreau de Maupertuis in his 1751 Essai de Cosmologie, Transmutation of species entered wider scientific circles with Erasmus Darwin's 1796 Zoönomia and Jean-Baptiste Lamarck's 1809 Philosophie Zoologique.
Following the appearance of On the Origin of Species, Tree of Life representations became popular in scientific works.
In On the Origin of Species, the ancestor remained largely a hypothetical species; Darwin was primarily occupied with showing the principle, carefully refraining from speculating on relationships between living or fossil organisms and using theoretical examples only.
In contrast, Chambers had proposed specific hypotheses, the evolution of placental mammals from marsupials, for example.
Thus, a group of extant animals could be tied to a fossil group.
The resulting description, that of dinosaurs "giving rise to" or being "the ancestors of" birds, exhibits the essential hallmark of evolutionary taxonomic thinking.
The past three decades have seen a dramatic increase in the use of DNA sequences for reconstructing phylogeny and a parallel shift in emphasis from evolutionary taxonomy towards Hennig's 'phylogenetic systematics'.
One common method is multiple sequence alignment.
New methods in modern evolutionary systematics
The Tree of Life
Main article: Tree of life (biology)
As more and more fossil groups were found and recognized in the late 19th and early 20th century, palaeontologists worked to understand the history of animals through the ages by linking together known groups.
The Tree of life was slowly being mapped out, with fossil groups taking up their position in the tree as understanding increased.
These groups still retained their formal Linnaean taxonomic ranks.
Some of them are paraphyletic in that, although every organism in the group is linked to a common ancestor by an unbroken chain of intermediate ancestors within the group, some other descendants of that ancestor lie outside the group.
The evolution and distribution of the various taxa through time is commonly shown as a spindle diagram (often called a Romerogram after the American palaeontologist Alfred Romer) where various spindles branch off from each other, with each spindle representing a taxon.
The width of the spindles are meant to imply the abundance (often number of families) plotted against time.
Vertebrate palaeontology had mapped out the evolutionary sequence of vertebrates as currently understood fairly well by the closing of the 19th century, followed by a reasonable understanding of the evolutionary sequence of the plant kingdom by the early 20th century.
For evolutionary systematicists, "monophyletic" means only that a group is derived from a single common ancestor.
In phylogenetic nomenclature, there is an added caveat that the ancestral species and all descendants should be included in the group.
The term "holophyletic" has been proposed for the latter meaning.
As an example, amphibians are monophyletic under evolutionary taxonomy, since they have arisen from fishes only once.
Under phylogenetic taxonomy, amphibians do not constitute a monophyletic group in that the amniotes (reptiles, birds and mammals) have evolved from an amphibian ancestor and yet are not considered amphibians.
Such paraphyletic groups are rejected in phylogenetic nomenclature, but are considered a signal of serial descent by evolutionary taxonomists.
Credits to the contents of this page go to the authors of the corresponding Wikipedia page: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolutionary taxonomy.