Brachiopod classification

The classification of brachiopods is being discussed at present.[1] The following is an overview of the different schemes which are proposed.

The "traditional" classification was defined in 1869.[2] Two further approaches were established in the 1990s:[3]


Underlying the discussion are some basic principles:[7]

  1. Traditional phylogeny (and hence taxonomy) was based on:
    1. overall body architecture, the idea of a body 'plan'.
    2. the idea that evolution went from simple to complex.
    3. certain basal features of embryology.
  2. Phyla (et cetera) are man-made concepts which are meant to mirror our understanding of the reality we see. However, we now know that morphological characters (traits) are more changeable than was previously thought.
  3. Molecular data are more objective, and can be decided with more certainty than data on morphology. Much more is now known about molecular sequences than is known about the evolution of morphology. Thus, evidence from molecular sequencing is used to develop classifications which better reflect evolution.
Three high-level classifications of brachiopods.[3][4]
"Traditional" classification.[3][4] Inarticulata Articulata
"Calciata" approach.[3] Lingulata Calciata
Three-part approach.[5][6] Linguliformea Craniformea Rhynchonelliformea
Orders Lingulida.[4] Discinida.[4] Craniida.[4] Terebratulida.[4] Rhynchonellida.[4]
Hinge No teeth Teeth and sockets
Anus On front of body, at end of U-shaped gut None
Pedicle Contains coelom (~cavity) with muscles running through No pedicle No coelom, muscles where joins body
Long, burrows Short, attached to hard surfaces None, cemented to surface Short, attached to hard surfaces.[3]
Periostracum (surface layer of shell) Glycoprotein and chitin Chitin Proteins
Primary (middle) mineralized layer of shell Glycosaminoglycans and apatite (calcium phosphate) Calcite (a form of calcium carbonate)
Inner mineralized layer of shell Collagen and other proteins, chitinophosphate and apatite (calcium phosphate) Calcite Proteins and calcite
Chaetae (stiff hairs) around opening of shells Yes.[3] No.[3] Yes.[3]
Coelom fully divided Yes.[3] No.[3] Yes.[3]

About 330 living species are recognized,[3] grouped into over 100 genera. The great majority of modern brachiopods are rhynchonelliforms (Articulata, but excluding Craniida).[8]


  1. Carlson S.J 2001. Ghosts of the past, present, and future in Brachiopod systematics. Journal of Paleontology 75 (6): 1109–1118. [1]
  2. ITIS: Integrated Taxonomic Information System. [2] Retrieved 16 Nov 2009
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 3.11 3.12 3.13 Ax P. 2003. Multicellular animals: order in nature – system made by man. [3] Springer. ISBN 3-540-00146-8
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 Ruppert E.E; Fox R.S. & Barnes R.D 2004. Invertebrate zoology, 821–829, "Brachiopoda". 7th ed. Brooks/Cole. ISBN 0-03-025982-7
  5. 5.0 5.1 Milsom C. & Rigby S. 2009. Brachiopods. Fossils at a Glance, Wiley, 37. [4] ISBN 1-4051-9336-0
  6. 6.0 6.1 Williams A; Carlson C.H.C. & Brunton S.J. (eds) 2000. Outline of suprafamilial classification and authorship. In Brachiopoda. Geological Society of America and The University of Kansas. ISBN 0-8137-3108-9
  7. Halanych K.M 2004. The new view of animal phylogeny. Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics 35: 229–256. [5]
  8. Cohen B.L 2006. Brachiopoda. In Encyclopedia of life sciences. Wiley Online Library (abstract). [6]