Sister group

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A sister group or sister taxon is a systematic term from cladistics denoting the closest relatives of a given unit in a phylogenetic tree.[1] The expression is most easily illustrated by the cladogram, where A, B, and C each represents a group:




The sister group to A is B; conversely, the sister group to B is A. Groups A and B, together with all other descendants of their last common ancestor, constitute a clade, here clade AB; the sister group to clade AB is C. The whole clade ABC will itself be rooted in (branched from) the larger tree, which offers yet more sister-group branches that are related but further removed from the leaf nodes, such as A and B. As per cladistic standards, A, B, and C may represent specimens, species, taxon-groups, etc. In cases where they represent species, the term sister species is sometimes used.

The term "sister group" is used in phylogenetic analysis; and only those groups identified in the analysis will be labelled as sister groups. An example is an analysis of birds, whose sister group is commonly cited as the crocodiles; but this is true only when dealing with extant taxa.[2][3] The bird family tree is rooted in the dinosaurs, making for a number of extinct groups branching off before coming to the last common ancestor of birds and crocodiles.[4] Thus the term sister group must be seen as a relative term, with the caveat that the sister group is the closest relative only among the groups/species/specimens included in the analysis.[5]


  1. ^ Eernisse, D.J. "Introduction to Phylogeny: What is a Sister Taxon?". Biology 404 - Evolution. Department of Biological Science, California State University, Fullerton. Retrieved 4 January 2012. 
  2. ^ Padian, Kevin; Lindberg, David R.; Polly, Paul David (1 May 1994). "Cladistics and the Fossil Record: The Uses of History". Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences. 22 (1): 63–89. doi:10.1146/annurev.ea.22.050194.000431. 
  3. ^ Kemp, T.S. (1 January 1988). "Haemothermia or Archosauria? The interrelationships of mammals, birds and crocodiles". Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society. 92 (1): 67–104. doi:10.1111/j.1096-3642.1988.tb01527.x. 
  4. ^ Hughes, J.M. "Ancient bird-crocdilian ancestor uncovered". AVES VITAE - The lives of birds. Retrieved 4 January 2012. 
  5. ^ Podani, J. (2010). "Taxonomy in Evolutionary Perspective - An essay on the relationships between taxonomy and evolutionary theory". Synbiologia Hungarica. 5: 1–42.