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Nature of the Checks to Increase - Chapter III - Origin of Species

Page 103 Contents - 'The Origin of Species' by Charles Darwin prev page     next page

But I must explain my meaning more fully. I believe that the ARRANGEMENT of the groups within each class, in due subordination and relation to each other, must be strictly genealogical in order to be natural; but that the AMOUNT of difference in the several branches or groups, though allied in the same degree in blood to their common progenitor, may differ greatly, being due to the different degrees of modification which they have undergone; and this is expressed by the forms being ranked under different genera, families, sections or orders. The reader will best understand what is meant, if he will take the trouble to refer to the diagram in the fourth chapter. We will suppose the letters A to L to represent allied genera existing during the Silurian epoch, and descended from some still earlier form. In three of these genera (A, F, and I) a species has transmitted modified descendants to the present day, represented by the fifteen genera (a14 to z14) on the uppermost horizontal line. Now, all these modified descendants from a single species are related in blood or descent in the same degree. They may metaphorically be called cousins to the same millionth degree, yet they differ widely and in different degrees from each other. The forms descended from A, now broken up into two or three families, constitute a distinct order from those descended from I, also broken up into two families. Nor can the existing species descended from A be ranked in the same genus with the parent A, or those from I with parent I. But the existing genus F14 may be supposed to have been but slightly modified, and it will then rank with the parent genus F; just as some few still living organisms belong to Silurian genera. So that the comparative value of the differences between these organic beings, which are all related to each other in the same degree in blood, has come to be widely different. Nevertheless, their genealogical ARRANGEMENT remains strictly true, not only at the present time, but at each successive period of descent. All the modified descendants from A will have inherited something in common from their common parent, as will all the descendants from I; so will it be with each subordinate branch of descendants at each successive stage. If, however, we suppose any descendant of A or of I to have become so much modified as to have lost all traces of its parentage in this case, its place in the natural system will be lost, as seems to have occurred with some few existing organisms. All the descendants of the genus F, along its whole line of descent, are supposed to have been but little modified, and they form a single genus. But this genus, though much isolated, will still occupy its proper intermediate position. The representation of the groups as here given in the diagram on a flat surface, is much too simple. The branches ought to have diverged in all directions. If the names of the groups had been simply written down in a linear series the representation would have been still less natural; and it is notoriously not possible to represent in a series, on a flat surface, the affinities which we discover in nature among the beings of the same group. Thus, the natural system is genealogical in its arrangement, like a pedigree. But the amount of modification which the different groups have undergone has to be expressed by ranking them under different so-called genera, subfamilies, families, sections, orders, and classes.

It may be worth while to illustrate this view of classification, by taking the case of languages. If we possessed a perfect pedigree of mankind, a genealogical arrangement of the races of man would afford the best classification of the various languages now spoken throughout the world; and if all extinct languages, and all intermediate and slowly changing dialects, were to be included, such an arrangement would be the only possible one. Yet it might be that some ancient languages had altered very little and had given rise to few new languages, whilst others had altered much owing to the spreading, isolation and state of civilisation of the several co-descended races, and had thus given rise to many new dialects and languages. The various degrees of difference between the languages of the same stock would have to be expressed by groups subordinate to groups; but the proper or even the only possible arrangement would still be genealogical; and this would be strictly natural, as it would connect together all languages, extinct and recent, by the closest affinities, and would give the filiation and origin of each tongue.

In confirmation of this view, let us glance at the classification of varieties, which are known or believed to be descended from a single species. These are grouped under the species, with the subvarieties under the varieties; and in some cases, as with the domestic pigeon, with several other grades of difference. Nearly the same rules are followed as in classifying species. Authors have insisted on the necessity of arranging varieties on a natural instead of an artificial system; we are cautioned, for instance, not to class two varieties of the pine-apple together, merely because their fruit, though the most important part, happens to be nearly identical; no one puts the Swedish and common turnip together, though the esculent and thickened stems are so similar. Whatever part is found to be most constant, is used in classing varieties: thus the great agriculturist Marshall says the horns are very useful for this purpose with cattle, because they are less variable than the shape or colour of the body, etc.; whereas with sheep the horns are much less serviceable, because less constant. In classing varieties, I apprehend that if we had a real pedigree, a genealogical classification would be universally preferred; and it has been attempted in some cases. For we might feel sure, whether there had been more or less modification, that the principle of inheritance would keep the forms together which were allied in the greatest number of points. In tumbler pigeons, though some of the subvarieties differ in the important character of the length of the beak, yet all are kept together from having the common habit of tumbling; but the short-faced breed has nearly or quite lost this habit; nevertheless, without any thought on the subject, these tumblers are kept in the same group, because allied in blood and alike in some other respects.

With species in a state of nature, every naturalist has in fact brought descent into his classification; for he includes in his lowest grade, that of species, the two sexes; and how enormously these sometimes differ in the most important characters is known to every naturalist: scarcely a single fact can be predicated in common of the adult males and hermaphrodites of certain cirripedes, and yet no one dreams of separating them. As soon as the three Orchidean forms, Monachanthus, Myanthus, and Catasetum, which had previously been ranked as three distinct genera, were known to be sometimes produced on the same plant, they were immediately considered as varieties; and now I have been able to show that they are the male, female, and hermaphrodite forms of the same species. The naturalist includes as one species the various larval stages of the same individual, however much they may differ from each other and from the adult; as well as the so-called alternate generations of Steenstrup, which can only in a technical sense be considered as the same individual. He includes monsters and varieties, not from their partial resemblance to the parent-form, but because they are descended from it.

As descent has universally been used in classing together the individuals of the same species, though the males and females and larvae are sometimes extremely different; and as it has been used in classing varieties which have undergone a certain, and sometimes a considerable amount of modification, may not this same element of descent have been unconsciously used in grouping species under genera, and genera under higher groups, all under the so-called natural system? I believe it has been unconsciously used; and thus only can I understand the several rules and guides which have been followed by our best systematists. As we have no written pedigrees, we are forced to trace community of descent by resemblances of any kind. Therefore, we choose those characters which are the least likely to have been modified, in relation to the conditions of life to which each species has been recently exposed. Rudimentary structures on this view are as good as, or even sometimes better than other parts of the organisation. We care not how trifling a character may be--let it be the mere inflection of the angle of the jaw, the manner in which an insect's wing is folded, whether the skin be covered by hair or feathers--if it prevail throughout many and different species, especially those having very different habits of life, it assumes high value; for we can account for its presence in so many forms with such different habits, only by inheritance from a common parent. We may err in this respect in regard to single points of structure, but when several characters, let them be ever so trifling, concur throughout a large group of beings having different habits, we may feel almost sure, on the theory of descent, that these characters have been inherited from a common ancestor; and we know that such aggregated characters have especial value in classification.

We can understand why a species or a group of species may depart from its allies, in several of its most important characteristics, and yet be safely classed with them. This may be safely done, and is often done, as long as a sufficient number of characters, let them be ever so unimportant, betrays the hidden bond of community of descent. Let two forms have not a single character in common, yet, if these extreme forms are connected together by a chain of intermediate groups, we may at once infer their community of descent, and we put them all into the same class. As we find organs of high physiological importance--those which serve to preserve life under the most diverse conditions of existence--are generally the most constant, we attach especial value to them; but if these same organs, in another group or section of a group, are found to differ much, we at once value them less in our classification. We shall presently see why embryological characters are of such high classificatory importance. Geographical distribution may sometimes be brought usefully into play in classing large genera, because all the species of the same genus, inhabiting any distinct and isolated region, are in all probability descended from the same parents.

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