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Laws of Variation - Chapter V - Origin of Species

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COMPENSATION AND ECONOMY OF GROWTH.

The elder Geoffroy and Goethe propounded, at about the same time, their law of compensation or balancement of growth; or, as Goethe expressed it, "in order to spend on one side, nature is forced to economise on the other side." I think this holds true to a certain extent with our domestic productions: if nourishment flows to one part or organ in excess, it rarely flows, at least in excess, to another part; thus it is difficult to get a cow to give much milk and to fatten readily. The same varieties of the cabbage do not yield abundant and nutritious foliage and a copious supply of oil-bearing seeds. When the seeds in our fruits become atrophied, the fruit itself gains largely in size and quality. In our poultry, a large tuft of feathers on the head is generally accompanied by a diminished comb, and a large beard by diminished wattles. With species in a state of nature it can hardly be maintained that the law is of universal application; but many good observers, more especially botanists, believe in its truth. I will not, however, here give any instances, for I see hardly any way of distinguishing between the effects, on the one hand, of a part being largely developed through natural selection and another and adjoining part being reduced by the same process or by disuse, and, on the other hand, the actual withdrawal of nutriment from one part owing to the excess of growth in another and adjoining part.

I suspect, also, that some of the cases of compensation which have been advanced, and likewise some other facts, may be merged under a more general principle, namely, that natural selection is continually trying to economise in every part of the organisation. If under changed conditions of life a structure, before useful, becomes less useful, its diminution will be favoured, for it will profit the individual not to have its nutriment wasted in building up a useless structure. I can thus only understand a fact with which I was much struck when examining cirripedes, and of which many other instances could be given: namely, that when a cirripede is parasitic within another cirripede and is thus protected, it loses more or less completely its own shell or carapace. This is the case with the male Ibla, and in a truly extraordinary manner with the Proteolepas: for the carapace in all other cirripedes consists of the three highly important anterior segments of the head enormously developed, and furnished with great nerves and muscles; but in the parasitic and protected Proteolepas, the whole anterior part of the head is reduced to the merest rudiment attached to the bases of the prehensile antennae. Now the saving of a large and complex structure, when rendered superfluous, would be a decided advantage to each successive individual of the species; for in the struggle for life to which every animal is exposed, each would have a better chance of supporting itself, by less nutriment being wasted.

Thus, as I believe, natural selection will tend in the long run to reduce any part of the organisation, as soon as it becomes, through changed habits, superfluous, without by any means causing some other part to be largely developed in a corresponding degree. And conversely, that natural selection may perfectly well succeed in largely developing an organ without requiring as a necessary compensation the reduction of some adjoining part.

MULTIPLE, RUDIMENTARY, AND LOWLY-ORGANISED STRUCTURES ARE VARIABLE.

It seems to be a rule, as remarked by Is. Geoffroy St. Hilaire, both with varieties and species, that when any part or organ is repeated many times in the same individual (as the vertebrae in snakes, and the stamens in polyandrous flowers) the number is variable; whereas the number of the same part or organ, when it occurs in lesser numbers, is constant. The same author as well as some botanists, have further remarked that multiple parts are extremely liable to vary in structure. As "vegetative repetition," to use Professor Owen's expression, is a sign of low organisation; the foregoing statements accord with the common opinion of naturalists, that beings which stand low in the scale of nature are more variable than those which are higher. I presume that lowness here means that the several parts of the organisation have been but little specialised for particular functions; and as long as the same part has to perform diversified work, we can perhaps see why it should remain variable, that is, why natural selection should not have preserved or rejected each little deviation of form so carefully as when the part has to serve for some one special purpose. In the same way that a knife which has to cut all sorts of things may be of almost any shape; whilst a tool for some particular purpose must be of some particular shape. Natural selection, it should never be forgotten, can act solely through and for the advantage of each being.

Rudimentary parts, as is generally admitted, are apt to be highly variable. We shall have to recur to this subject; and I will here only add that their variability seems to result from their uselessness, and consequently from natural selection having had no power to check deviations in their structure.

A PART DEVELOPED IN ANY SPECIES IN AN EXTRAORDINARY DEGREE OR MANNER, IN COMPARISON WITH THE SAME PART IN ALLIED SPECIES, TENDS TO BE HIGHLY VARIABLE.

Several years ago I was much struck by a remark to the above effect made by Mr. Waterhouse. Professor Owen, also, seems to have come to a nearly similar conclusion. It is hopeless to attempt to convince any one of the truth of the above proposition without giving the long array of facts which I have collected, and which cannot possibly be here introduced. I can only state my conviction that it is a rule of high generality. I am aware of several causes of error, but I hope that I have made due allowances for them. It should be understood that the rule by no means applies to any part, however unusually developed, unless it be unusually developed in one species or in a few species in comparison with the same part in many closely allied species. Thus, the wing of the bat is a most abnormal structure in the class of mammals; but the rule would not apply here, because the whole group of bats possesses wings; it would apply only if some one species had wings developed in a remarkable manner in comparison with the other species of the same genus. The rule applies very strongly in the case of secondary sexual characters, when displayed in any unusual manner. The term, secondary sexual characters, used by Hunter, relates to characters which are attached to one sex, but are not directly connected with the act of reproduction. The rule applies to males and females; but more rarely to females, as they seldom offer remarkable secondary sexual characters. The rule being so plainly applicable in the case of secondary sexual characters, may be due to the great variability of these characters, whether or not displayed in any unusual manner--of which fact I think there can be little doubt. But that our rule is not confined to secondary sexual characters is clearly shown in the case of hermaphrodite cirripedes; I particularly attended to Mr. Waterhouse's remark, whilst investigating this order, and I am fully convinced that the rule almost always holds good. I shall, in a future work, give a list of all the more remarkable cases. I will here give only one, as it illustrates the rule in its largest application. The opercular valves of sessile cirripedes (rock barnacles) are, in every sense of the word, very important structures, and they differ extremely little even in distinct genera; but in the several species of one genus, Pyrgoma, these valves present a marvellous amount of diversification; the homologous valves in the different species being sometimes wholly unlike in shape; and the amount of variation in the individuals of the same species is so great that it is no exaggeration to state that the varieties of the same species differ more from each other in the characters derived from these important organs, than do the species belonging to other distinct genera.

As with birds the individuals of the same species, inhabiting the same country, vary extremely little, I have particularly attended to them; and the rule certainly seems to hold good in this class. I cannot make out that it applies to plants, and this would have seriously shaken my belief in its truth, had not the great variability in plants made it particularly difficult to compare their relative degrees of variability.

When we see any part or organ developed in a remarkable degree or manner in a species, the fair presumption is that it is of high importance to that species: nevertheless it is in this case eminently liable to variation. Why should this be so? On the view that each species has been independently created, with all its parts as we now see them, I can see no explanation. But on the view that groups of species are descended from some other species, and have been modified through natural selection, I think we can obtain some light. First let me make some preliminary remarks. If, in our domestic animals, any part or the whole animal be neglected, and no selection be applied, that part (for instance, the comb in the Dorking fowl) or the whole breed will cease to have a uniform character: and the breed may be said to be degenerating. In rudimentary organs, and in those which have been but little specialised for any particular purpose, and perhaps in polymorphic groups, we see a nearly parallel case; for in such cases natural selection either has not or cannot come into full play, and thus the organisation is left in a fluctuating condition. But what here more particularly concerns us is, that those points in our domestic animals, which at the present time are undergoing rapid change by continued selection, are also eminently liable to variation. Look at the individuals of the same breed of the pigeon; and see what a prodigious amount of difference there is in the beak of tumblers, in the beak and wattle of carriers, in the carriage and tail of fantails, etc., these being the points now mainly attended to by English fanciers. Even in the same sub-breed, as in that of the short-faced tumbler, it is notoriously difficult to breed nearly perfect birds, many departing widely from the standard. There may truly be said to be a constant struggle going on between, on the one hand, the tendency to reversion to a less perfect state, as well as an innate tendency to new variations, and, on the other hand, the power of steady selection to keep the breed true. In the long run selection gains the day, and we do not expect to fail so completely as to breed a bird as coarse as a common tumbler pigeon from a good short-faced strain. But as long as selection is rapidly going on, much variability in the parts undergoing modification may always be expected.

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