Constructing an Animal Phylogenetic Tree
The current understanding of evolutionary relationships among animal, or Metazoa, phyla begins with the distinction between animals with true differentiated tissues, called Eumetazoa, and animal phyla that do not have true differentiated tissues, such as the sponges (Porifera) and the Placozoa. Similarities between the feeding cells of sponges (choanocytes) and choanoflagellate protists (Figure) have been used to suggest that Metazoa evolved from a common ancestral organism that resembled the moderncolonial choanoflagellates.
Eumetazoa are subdivided into radially symmetrical animals and bilaterally symmetrical animals, and are thus classified into the clades Bilateria and Radiata, respectively. As mentioned earlier, the cnidarians and ctenophores are animal phyla with true radial, biradial, or rotational symmetry. All other Eumetazoa are members of the Bilateria clade. The bilaterally symmetrical animals are further divided into deuterostomes (including chordates and echinoderms) and two distinct clades of protostomes (including ecdysozoans and lophotrochozoans) (Figurea,b). Ecdysozoa includes nematodes and arthropods; they are so named for a commonly found characteristic among the group: the physiological process of exoskeletal molting followed by the “stripping” of the outer cuticular layer, called ecdysis. Lophotrochozoa is named for two structural features, each common to certain phyla within the clade. Some lophotrochozoan phyla are characterized by a larval stage called trochophore larvae, and other phyla are characterized by the presence of a feeding structure called a lophophore (thus, the shorter term, “lopho-trocho-zoa”).
Link to Learning
Explore an interactive tree of life here. Zoom and click to learn more about the organisms and their evolutionary relationships.