Incertae sedis

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Incertae sedis—"of uncertain position (seat)"—is a term used to define a taxonomic group where its broader relationships are unknown or undefined.


The taxonomy for humans is usually recognized as follows:

If modern humans were newly discovered or considered to be a taxonomic enigma, they might be given the rank of incertae sedis. For example, if it were uncertain how Homo related to other members of the family Hominidae, a list of the great apes would look like this:

Likewise, if humans were known to be primates, but no other relationships were clear, a taxonomy of the primates would look like this:

Reasons a group might be considered incertae sedis

Not included in an analysis

If a formal phylogenetic analysis is conducted that does not include a certain taxon, the authors might choose to label the taxon incertae sedis instead of guessing as to its placement. This is particularly common when molecular phylogenies are generated since tissue for many rare organisms is hard to obtain. It is also a common scenario when fossil taxa are included since many fossils are defined based on partial information. For example, if the phylogeny was constructed using soft tissue and vertebrae as principal characters and the taxon in question is only known from a single tooth, it would be necessary to label it incertae sedis.


If conflicting results exist or if there is not a consensus among researchers as to how a taxon relates to other organisms, it may be listed as incertae sedis until the conflict is resolved.

Basal taxa

There is a growing trend (see phylogenetic taxonomy) among taxonomists to place a basal taxon in the clade that contains its ancestors, but to refrain from giving it any more specific taxonomic ranks. For example, the ancestor to all primates would be placed in the Order Primates, but would not be placed in a family at all. Placing it in an individual family (such as Lemuridae) would suggest that it is more closely related to members of that family (lemurs) than to other primates when, in fact, it is equally related to all primates.

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