With the advent of DNA sequencing, the relationships among protist groups and between protist groups and other eukaryotes are beginning to become clearer. Many relationships that were based on morphological similarities are being replaced by new relationships based on genetic similarities. Protists that exhibit similar morphological features may have evolved analogous structures because of similar selective pressures—rather than because of recent common ancestry. This phenomenon is called convergent evolution. It is one reason why protist classification is so challenging. The emerging classification scheme groups the entire domain Eukaryota into six “supergroups” that contain all of the protists as well as animals, plants, and fungi (Figure 13.15); these include the Excavata, Chromalveolata, Rhizaria, Archaeplastida, Amoebozoa, and Opisthokonta. The supergroups are believed to be monophyletic; all organisms within each supergroup are believed to have evolved from a single common ancestor, and thus all members are most closely related to each other than to organisms outside that group. There is still evidence lacking for the monophyly of some groups.
Figure 13.15 Protists appear in all six eukaryotic supergroups.