Quick Reference

A novel evolutionary trait that is unique to a particular species and all its descendants and which can be used as a defining character for a species or group in phylogenetic terms. Hence, the possession of feathers is unique to birds and defines all members of the class Aves. An apomorphy that is restricted to a single species is termed an autapomorphy. It alone cannot provide any information about the phylogenetic relations of that species, although it can indicate the degree of divergence of a species from its nearest relatives. An example is speech, which is found solely in humans (Homo sapiens) and not in other primates. An apomorphy that is shared by two or more species or groups is termed a synapomorphy. Such traits define the strictly monophyletic groups, or clades, which are the basis of cladistic classification systems (see cladistics). Compare plesiomorphy.

Subjects: Biological Sciences.

Reference entries