Synapomorphy and apomorphy

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Phylogenies showing the terminology used to describe different patterns of ancestral and derived character or trait states.[1]

In phylogenetics, apomorphy and synapomorphy refer to derived characters of a clade – characters or traits that are derived from ancestral characters over evolutionary history.[2] An apomorphy is a character that is different from the form found in an ancestor, i.e., an innovation, that sets the clade apart ("apo") from other clades. A synapomorphy is a shared ("syn") apomorphy that distinguishes a clade from other organisms.[1][3] In other words, it is an apomorphy shared by members of a monophyletic group, and thus assumed to be present in their most recent common ancestor. The word synapomorphy, coined by German entomologist Willi Hennig, is derived from the Greek words σύν, syn = shared; ἀπό, apo = away from; and μορφή, morphe = shape.

As an example, in most groups of mammals, the vertebral column is highly conserved, with the same number of vertebrae found in the neck of a giraffe, for example, as in mammals with shorter necks. However, in the Afrotheria clade, which includes elephant shrews, golden moles and elephants, there is an increase in the number of thoracolumbar vertebrae. This is a synapomorphy of the clade: a shared feature considered to be derived from a common ancestor.[4]

Phylogenetic similarities: These phylogenetic terms are used to describe different patterns of ancestral and derived character or trait states as stated in the above diagram in association with synapomorphies.[5]

Plesiomorphy – the ancestral trait state, usually in reference to a derived trait state.

Apomorphy – - derived trait that is shared between at least two related groups or species (taxa) but not present in their common ancestor.

Synapomorphy - derived trait that is shared between at least two groups or species (taxa) that is shared with their common ancestor.

Autapomorphy – a distinctive derived trait that is unique to a given taxon.[6]

Parallel Homoplasy – derived trait present in two groups or species without a common ancestor due to convergent evolution.[7]

Reverse Homoplasy – trait present in an ancestor but not in direct descendants that reappears in later descendants.[8]

Analysis: A new method of measuring phylogenetic characteristics is the use of Relative Apparent Synapomorphy Analysis (RASA). The objective of analysis is to determine if a given characteristic is common between taxa as a result of either shared ancestors or the process of convergence[9]. This method allows for several advantages such as computational efficiency and it also administers an unbiased and reliable measure of phylogenetic signal.[10]

The concept of synapomorphy is relative to a given clade in the tree of life. What counts as a synapomorphy for one clade may well be a primitive character or plesiomorphy at a less inclusive or nested clade. For example, the presence of mammary glands is a synapomorphy for mammals in relation to tetrapods but is a symplesiomorphy for mammals in relation to one another, rodents and primates, for example. So the concept can be understood as well in terms of "a character newer than" (autapomorphy) and "a character older than" (plesiomorphy) the apomorphy: mammary glands are evolutionarily newer than vertebral column, so mammary glands are an autapomorphy if vertebral column is an apomorphy, but if mammary glands are the apomorphy being considered then vertebral column is a plesiomorphy.

Cladogram comprehension: Cladograms are diagrams that depict evolutionary relationships within groups of taxa. These illustrations are accurate predictive device in modern genetics. They are usually depicted in either tree or ladder form. Synapomorphies then create evidence for historical relationships and their associated hierarchical structure. Evolutionarily, a synapomorphy is the marker for the most recent common ancestor of the monophyletic group consisting of a set of taxa in a cladogram.[11]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ a b Roderick D.M. Page; Edward C. Holmes (14 July 2009). Molecular Evolution: A Phylogenetic Approach. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 978-1-4443-1336-9. 
  2. ^ Concise Encyclopedia Biology. Tubingen, DEU: Walter de Gruyter. 1996. p. 366. Archived from the original on August 28, 2008. Retrieved 7 May 2015. 
  3. ^ Barton, Nicholas; Briggs, Derek; Eisen, Jonathan; Goldstein, David; Patel, Nipam (2007). "Phylogenetic Reconstruction". Evolution. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press. 
  4. ^ Sánchez‐Villagra, Marcelo R.; Narita, Yuichi; Kuratani, Shigeru (2007-03-01). "Thoracolumbar vertebral number: The first skeletal synapomorphy for afrotherian mammals". Systematics and Biodiversity. 5 (1): 1–7. doi:10.1017/s1477200006002258. ISSN 1477-2000. 
  5. ^ Roderick D.M. Page; Edward C. Holmes (14 July 2009). Molecular Evolution: A Phylogenetic Approach. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 978-1-4443-1336-9.
  6. ^ Appel, Ron D.; Feytmans, Ernest. Bioinformatics: a Swiss Perspective."Chapter 3: Introduction of Phylogenetics and its Molecular Aspects." World Scientific Publishing Company, 1st edition. 2009.
  8. ^
  9. ^ Lyons-Weiler, J.; Hoelzer, G. A.; Tausch, R. J. (1996-07-01). "Relative apparent synapomorphy analysis (RASA). I: The statistical measurement of phylogenetic signal". Molecular Biology and Evolution. 13 (6): 749–757. doi:10.1093/oxfordjournals.molbev.a025635. ISSN 0737-4038. 
  10. ^ Simmons, Mark P.; Randle, Christopher P.; Freudenstein, John V.; Wenzel, John W. (2002-01-01). "Limitations of Relative Apparent Synapomorphy Analysis (RASA) for Measuring Phylogenetic Signal". Molecular Biology and Evolution. 19 (1): 14–23. doi:10.1093/oxfordjournals.molbev.a003978. ISSN 0737-4038. 
  11. ^ Novick LR, Catley KM. Understanding phylogenies in biology: the influence of a Gestalt perceptual principle. J Exp Psychol Appl. 2007;13:197–223.