Phylogenetic analyses of surface antigens and other chlamydial proteins were used to reconstruct the evolution of the Chlamydiaceae. Trees for all five coding genes [the major outer-membrane protein (MOMP), GroEL chaperonin, KDO-transferase, small cysteine-rich lipoprotein and 60 kDa cysteine-rich protein] supported the current organization of the family Chlamydiaceae, which is based on ribosomal, biochemical, serological, ecological and DNA-DNA hybridization data. Genetic distances between some species were quite large, so phylogenies were evaluated for robustness by comparing analyses of both nucleotide and protein sequences using a variety of algorithms (neighbour-joining, maximum-likelihood, maximum-parsimony with bootstrapping, and quartet puzzling). Saturation plots identified areas of the trees in which factors other than relatedness may have determined branch attachments. All nine species were clearly differentiated by distinctness ratios calculated for each gene. The distribution of virulence traits such as host and tissue tropism were mapped onto the consensus phylogeny. Closely related species were no more likely to share virulence characters than were more distantly related species. This phylogenetically disjunct distribution of virulence traits could not be explained by lateral transfer of the genes we studied, since we found no evidence for lateral gene transfer above the species level. One interpretation of this observation is that when chlamydiae gain access to a new niche, such as a new host or tissue, significant adaptation ensues and the virulence phenotype of the new species reflects adaptation to its environment more strongly than it reflects its ancestry.