Lineage (evolution)

An evolutionary lineage is a temporal series of organisms, populations, cells, or genes connected by a continuous line of descent from ancestor to descendent.[1][2] Lineages are subsets of the evolutionary tree of life. Lineages are often determined by the techniques of molecular systematics.

Phylogenetic representation of lineages

Phylogenetic tree
Fig. 1: A rooted tree for rRNA genes

Lineages are typically visualized as subsets of a phylogenetic tree. For example, the tree in Figure 1 shows the separation of life into three ancient clades: bacteria, archaea, and eukaryotes. A lineage is a single line of descent or linear chain within the tree, while a clade is a (usually branched) monophyletic group, containing a single ancestor and all its descendants. Phylogenetic trees are typically created from DNA, RNA or protein sequence data. Apart from this, morphological differences and similarities have been, and still are used to create phylogenetic trees. Sequences from different individuals are collected and their similarity is quantified. Mathematical procedures are used to cluster individuals by similarity.

Just as a map is a scaled approximation of true geography, a phylogenetic tree is an approximation of the true complete evolutionary relationships. For example, in Figure 1, the entire clade of animals has been collapsed to a single branch of the tree. However, this is merely a limitation of rendering space. In theory, a true and complete tree for all living organisms or for any DNA sequence could be generated.


  1. ^ The University of California, Berkeley resource on understanding evolution defines a lineage as "A continuous line of descent; a series of organisms, populations, cells, or genes connected by ancestor/descendent relationships." Understanding Evolution, Glossary of Terms
  2. ^ The Oxford English Dictionary defines biological lineage as "a sequence of species each of which is considered to have evolved from its predecessor."OED definition of lineage

See also


Anagenesis is the gradual evolution of a species that continues to exist as an interbreeding population. This contrasts with cladogenesis, which occurs when there is branching or splitting, leading to two or more lineages and resulting in separate species. Anagenesis does not always lead to the formation of a new species from an ancestral species. When speciation does occur as different lineages branch off and cease to interbreed, a core group may continue to be defined as the original species. The evolution of this group, without extinction or species selection, is anagenesis.

Outline of evolution

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to evolution:

Evolution – change in heritable traits of biological organisms over generations due to natural selection, mutation, gene flow, and genetic drift. Also known as descent with modification. Over time these evolutionary processes lead to formation of new species (speciation), changes within lineages (anagenesis), and loss of species (extinction). "Evolution" is also another name for evolutionary biology, the subfield of biology concerned with studying evolutionary processes that produced the diversity of life on Earth.

Social spider

A social spider is a spider species whose individuals form relatively long-lasting aggregations. Whereas most spiders are solitary and even aggressive toward other members of their own species, some hundreds of species in several families show a tendency to live in groups, often referred to as colonies.

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