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- Darwiniana - 6/52 -


that varieties on the one hand, and what are called closely-related species on the other, do not differ except in degree. Whenever this wider difference separating the latter can be spanned by intermediate forms, as it sometimes is, no botanist long resists the inevitable conclusion. Whenever, therefore, this wider difference can be shown to be compatible with community of origin, and explained through natural selection or in any other way, we are ready to adopt the probable conclusion; and we see beforehand how strikingly the actual geographical association of related species favors the broader view. Whether we should continue to regard the forms in question as distinct species, depends upon what meaning we shall finally attach to that term; and that depends upon how far the doctrine of derivation can be carried back and how well it can be supported.

In applying his principle of natural selection to the work in hand, Mr. Darwin assumes, as we have seen: i. Some variability of animals and plants in nature; 2. The absence of any definite distinction between slight variations, and varieties of the highest grade; 3. The fact that naturalists do not practically agree, and do not increasingly tend to agree, as to what forms are species and what are strong varieties, thus rendering it probable that there may be no essential and original difference, or no possibility of ascertaining it, at least in many cases; also, 4. That the most flourishing and dominant species of the larger genera on an average vary most (a proposition which can be substantiated only by extensive comparisons, the details of which are not given); and, 5. That in large genera the species are apt to be closely but unequally allied together, forming little clusters round certain species--just such clusters as would be formed if we suppose their members once to have been satellites or varieties of a central or parent species, but to have attained at length a wider divergence and a specific character. The fact of such association is undeniable; and the use which Mr. Darwin makes of it seems fair and natural.

The gist of Mr. Darwin's work is to show that such varieties are gradually diverged into species and genera through natural selection; that natural selection is the inevitable result of the struggle for existence which all living things are engaged in; and that this struggle is an unavoidable consequence of several natural causes, but mainly of the high rate at which all organic beings tend to increase.

Curiously enough, Mr. Darwin's theory is grounded upon the doctrine of Malthus and the doctrine of Hobbes. The elder DeCandolle had conceived the idea of the struggle for existence, and, in a passage which would have delighted the cynical philosopher of Malmesbury, had declared that all Nature is at war, one organism with another or with external Nature; and Lyell and Herbert had made considerable use of it. But Hobbes in his theory of society, and Darwin in his theory of natural history, alone have built their systems upon it. However moralists and political economists may regard these doctrines in their original application to human society and the relation of population to subsistence, their thorough applicability to the great society of the organic world in general is now undeniable. And to Mr. Darwin belongs the credit of making this extended application, and of working out the immensely diversified results with rare sagacity and untiring patience. He has brought to view real causes which have been largely operative in the establishment of the actual association and geographical distribution of plants and animals. In this he must be allowed to have made a very important contribution to an interesting department of science, even if his theory fails in the endeavor to explain the origin or diversity of species. "Nothing is easier," says our author, "than to admit in words the truth of the universal struggle for life, or more difficult--at least I have found it so--than constantly to bear this conclusion in mind. Yet, unless it be thoroughly ingrained in the mind, I am convinced that the whole economy of Nature, with every fact on distribution, rarity, abundance, extinction, and variation, will be dimly seen or quite misunderstood. We behold the face of Nature bright with gladness, we often see superabundance of food; we do not see, or we forget, that the birds which are idly singing round us mostly live on insects or seeds, and are thus constantly destroying life; or we forget how largely these songsters, or their eggs, or their nestlings, are destroyed by birds and beasts of prey; we do not always bear in mind that, though food may be now superabundant, it is not so at all seasons of each recurring year."--(p. 62.)

"There is no exception to the rule that every organic being naturally increases at so high a rate that, if not destroyed, the earth would soon be covered by the progeny of a single pair. Even slow-breeding man has doubled in twenty-five years, and at this rate, in a few thousand years, there would literally not be standing-room for his progeny. Linnaeus has calculated that if an annual plant produced only two seeds--and there is no plant so unproductive as this--and their seedlings next year produced two, and so on, then in twenty years there would be a million plants. The elephant is reckoned to be the slowest breeder of all known animals, and I have taken some pains to estimate its pro!)able minimum rate of natural increase; it will be under the mark to assume that it breeds when thirty years old, and goes on breeding till ninety years old, bringing forth three pairs of young in this interval; if this be so, at the end of the fifth century there would be alive fifteen million elephants, descended from the first pair.

"But we have better evidence on this subject than mere theoretical calculations, namely, the numerous recorded cases of the astonishingly rapid increase of various animals in a state of nature, when circumstances have been favorable to them during two or three following seasons. Still more striking is the evidence from our domestic animals of many kinds which have run wild in several parts of the world; if the statements of the rate of increase of slow-breeding cattle and horses in South America, and latterly in Australia, had not been well authenticated, they would have been quite incredible. So it is with plants: cases could be given of introduced plants which have become common throughout whole islands in a period of less than ten years. Several of the plants now most numerous over the wide plains of La Plata, clothing square leagues of surface almost to the exclusion of all other plants, have been introduced from Europe; and there are plants which now range in India, as I hear from Dr. Falconer, from Cape Comorin to the Himalaya, which have been imported from America since its discovery. In such cases, and endless instances could be given, no one supposes that the fertility of these animals or plants has been suddenly and temporarily increased in any sensible degree. The obvious explanation is, that the conditions of life have been very favorable, and that there has consequently been less destruction of the old and young, and that nearly all the young have been enabled to breed. In such cases the geometrical ratio of increase, the result of which never fails to be surprising, simply explains the extraordinarily rapid increase and wide diffusion of naturalized productions in their new homes."--(pp. 64, 65.)

"All plants and animals are tending to increase at a geometrical ratio; all would most rapidly stock any station in which they could anyhow exist; the increase must be checked by destruction at some period of life."--(p. 65.)

The difference between the most and the least prolific species is of no account:

"The condor lays a couple of eggs, and the ostrich a score; and yet in the same country the condor may be the more numerous of the two. The Fulmar petrel lays but one egg, yet it is believed to be the most numerous bird in the world."--(p. 68.)

"The amount of food gives the extreme limit to which each species can increase; but very frequently it is not the obtaining of food, but the serving as prey to other animals, which determines the average numbers of species."--(p. 68.)

"Climate plays an important part in determining the average numbers of a species, and periodical seasons of extreme cold or drought I believe to be the most effective of all checks. I estimated that the winter of 1854--'55 destroyed four-fifths of the birds in my own grounds; and this is a tremendous destruction, when we remember that ten per cent, is an extraordinarily severe mortality from epidemics with man. The action of climate seems at first sight to be quite independent of the struggle for existence; but, in so far as climate chiefly acts in reducing food, it brings on the most severe struggle between the individuals, whether of the same or of distinct species, which subsist on the same kind of food, Even when climate, for instance extreme cold, acts directly, it will be the least vigorous, or those which have got least food through the advancing winter, which will suffer most. When we travel from south to north, or from a damp region to a dry, we invariably see some species gradually getting rarer and rarer, and finally disappearing; and, the change of climate being conspicuous, we are tempted to attribute the whole effect to its direct action. But this is a very false view; we forget that each species, even where it most abounds, is constantly suffering enormous destruction at some period of its life, from enemies or from competitors for the same place and food; and if these enemies or competitors be in the least degree favored by any slight change of climate, they will increase in numbers, and, as each area is already stocked with inhabitants, the other species will decrease. When we travel southward and see a species decreasing in numbers, we may feel sure that the cause lies quite as much in other species being favored as in this one being hurt. So it is when we travel northward, but in a somewhat lesser degree, for the number of species of all kinds, and therefore of competitors, decreases northward; hence, in going northward, or in ascending a mountain, we far oftener meet with stunted forms, due to the directly injurious action of climate, than we do in proceeding southward or in descending a mountain. When we reach the arctic regions, or snow-capped summits, or absolute deserts, the struggle for life is almost exclusively with the elements.

"That climate acts in main part indirectly by favoring other species, we may clearly see in the prodigious number of plants in our gardens which can perfectly well endure our climate, but which never become naturalized, for they cannot compete with our native plants, nor resist destruction by our native animals."--(pp. 68, 69.)

After an instructive instance in which "cattle absolutely determine the existence of the Scotch fir," we are referred to cases in which insects determine the existence of cattle:

"Perhaps Paraguay offers the most curious instance of this; for here neither cattle, nor horses, nor dogs, have ever run wild, though they swarm southward and northward in a feral state; and Azara and Rengger have shown that this is caused by the greater number in Paraguay of a certain fly, which lays its eggs in the navels of these animals when first born. The increase of these flies, numerous as they are, must be habitually checked by some means, probably by birds. Hence, if certain insectivorous birds (whose numbers are probably regulated by hawks or beasts of prey) were to increase in Paraguay, the flies would decrease--then cattle and horses would become feral, and this would certainly greatly alter (as indeed I have observed in parts of South America) the vegetation; this, again, would largely affect the insects; and this, as we have just seen in Staffordshire, the insectivorous birds, and so onward in ever-increasing circles of complexity. We began this series by insectivorous birds, and we had ended with them. Not that in Nature the relations can ever be as simple as this. Battle within battle must ever be recurring with varying success; and yet in the long-run the forces are so nicely balanced that the face of Nature remains uniform for long periods of time, though assuredly the merest trifle would often give the victory to one organic being over another. Nevertheless, so profound is our ignorance, and so high our presumption, that we marvel when we hear of the extinction of an organic being; and as we do not see the cause, we invoke cataclysms to desolate the world, or invent laws on the duration of the forms of life!"--(pp. 72, 73.)


Darwiniana - 6/52

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