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Dunkleosteus is a member of the pachyosteomorph arthrodires, and is more specifically usually placed in the family Dinichthyidae, a family composed mostly of large, carnivorous arthrodires like Gorgonichthys. Anderson (2009) suggests that because of its primitive jaw structure Dunkleosteus should be placed outside the family Dinichthyidae, perhaps close to the base of the clade Pachyosteomorpha, near Eastmanosteus, but this idea has yet to be tested.
New studies have revealed several features in both its food and biomechanics as its ecology and physiology. Placodermi first appeared in the Silurian, and the group became extinct during the transition from the Devonian to the Carboniferous, leaving no descendants. The class lasted barely 50 million years, in comparison to the 400 million year long history of sharks.