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On The Geological Succession Of Organic Beings - Chapter XI

Page 82 Contents - 'The Origin of Species' by Charles Darwin prev page     next page



On the slow and successive appearance of new species -- On their different rates of change -- Species once lost do not reappear -- Groups of species follow the same general rules in their appearance and disappearance as do single species -- On extinction -- On simultaneous changes in the forms of life throughout the world -- On the affinities of extinct species to each other and to living species -- On the state of development of ancient forms -- On the succession of the same types within the same areas -- Summary of preceding and present chapters.

Let us now see whether the several facts and laws relating to the geological succession of organic beings accord best with the common view of the immutability of species, or with that of their slow and gradual modification, through variation and natural selection.

New species have appeared very slowly, one after another, both on the land and in the waters. Lyell has shown that it is hardly possible to resist the evidence on this head in the case of the several tertiary stages; and every year tends to fill up the blanks between the stages, and to make the proportion between the lost and existing forms more gradual. In some of the most recent beds, though undoubtedly of high antiquity if measured by years, only one or two species are extinct, and only one or two are new, having appeared there for the first time, either locally, or, as far as we know, on the face of the earth. The secondary formations are more broken; but, as Bronn has remarked, neither the appearance nor disappearance of the many species embedded in each formation has been simultaneous.

Species belonging to different genera and classes have not changed at the same rate, or in the same degree. In the older tertiary beds a few living shells may still be found in the midst of a multitude of extinct forms. Falconer has given a striking instance of a similar fact, for an existing crocodile is associated with many lost mammals and reptiles in the sub-Himalayan deposits. The Silurian Lingula differs but little from the living species of this genus; whereas most of the other Silurian Molluscs and all the Crustaceans have changed greatly. The productions of the land seem to have changed at a quicker rate than those of the sea, of which a striking instance has been observed in Switzerland. There is some reason to believe that organisms high in the scale, change more quickly than those that are low: though there are exceptions to this rule. The amount of organic change, as Pictet has remarked, is not the same in each successive so-called formation. Yet if we compare any but the most closely related formations, all the species will be found to have undergone some change. When a species has once disappeared from the face of the earth, we have no reason to believe that the same identical form ever reappears. The strongest apparent exception to this latter rule is that of the so-called "colonies" of M. Barrande, which intrude for a period in the midst of an older formation, and then allow the pre-existing fauna to reappear; but Lyell's explanation, namely, that it is a case of temporary migration from a distinct geographical province, seems satisfactory.

These several facts accord well with our theory, which includes no fixed law of development, causing all the inhabitants of an area to change abruptly, or simultaneously, or to an equal degree. The process of modification must be slow, and will generally affect only a few species at the same time; for the variability of each species is independent of that of all others. Whether such variations or individual differences as may arise will be accumulated through natural selection in a greater or less degree, thus causing a greater or less amount of permanent modification, will depend on many complex contingencies--on the variations being of a beneficial nature, on the freedom of intercrossing, on the slowly changing physical conditions of the country, on the immigration of new colonists, and on the nature of the other inhabitants with which the varying species come into competition. Hence it is by no means surprising that one species should retain the same identical form much longer than others; or, if changing, should change in a less degree. We find similar relations between the existing inhabitants of distinct countries; for instance, the land-shells and coleopterous insects of Madeira have come to differ considerably from their nearest allies on the continent of Europe, whereas the marine shells and birds have remained unaltered. We can perhaps understand the apparently quicker rate of change in terrestrial and in more highly organised productions compared with marine and lower productions, by the more complex relations of the higher beings to their organic and inorganic conditions of life, as explained in a former chapter. When many of the inhabitants of any area have become modified and improved, we can understand, on the principle of competition, and from the all-important relations of organism to organism in the struggle for life, that any form which did not become in some degree modified and improved, would be liable to extermination. Hence, we see why all the species in the same region do at last, if we look to long enough intervals of time, become modified; for otherwise they would become extinct.

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