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In biological taxonomy, a grouping of organisms is said to be paraphyletic if all the members of the group have a common ancestor but the group does not include all the descendants of the common ancestor. Groups which include all the descendants of a common ancestor are commonly termed monophyletic, although this term is sometimes taken to apply to paraphyletic groups, in which case they are called holophyletic.

Many of the older classifications contain paraphyletic groups, especially the traditional 2-6 kingdom systems and the classic division of the vertebrates. For example, the class Reptilia as traditionally defined is paraphyletic because that class does not include one group of its descendants, birds (in class Aves). Paraphyletic groups are often erected on the basis of plesiomorphies (ancestral similarities) instead of upon apomorphies (derived similarities).

In most cladistics-based schools of taxonomy, the existence of paraphyletic groups in a classification are regarded as errors. Some groups in currently accepted taxonomies may later turn out to be paraphyletic, in which case the classifications may be revised to eliminate them. Some, however, feel that having paraphyletic groups is an acceptable sacrifice if it makes the taxonomy more understandable. Others argue that paraphyletic groups are necessary to have a comprehensive classification including extinct groups, since each species, genus, and so forth necessarily originates from part of another.

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