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In biological phylogenetics, a clade (from Ancient Greek κλάδος (kládos) 'branch'), also known as a monophyletic group or natural group, is a grouping of organisms that are monophyletic – that is, composed of a common ancestor and all its lineal descendants – on a phylogenetic tree. In the taxonomical literature, sometimes the Latin form cladus (plural cladi) is used rather than the English form. Clades are the fundamental unit of cladistics, a modern approach to taxonomy adopted by most biological fields.
The common ancestor may be an individual, a population, or a species (extinct or extant). Clades are nested, one in another, as each branch in turn splits into smaller branches. These splits reflect evolutionary history as populations diverged and evolved independently. Clades are termed monophyletic (Greek: "one clan") groups.
Over the last few decades, the cladistic approach has revolutionized biological classification and revealed surprising evolutionary relationships among organisms. Increasingly, taxonomists try to avoid naming taxa that are not clades; that is, taxa that are not monophyletic. Some of the relationships between organisms that the molecular biology arm of cladistics has revealed include that fungi are closer relatives to animals than they are to plants, archaea are now considered different from bacteria, and multicellular organisms may have evolved from archaea.
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