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Geographical Distribution - Chapter XII

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The question of single or multiple centres of creation differs from another though allied question, namely, whether all the individuals of the same species are descended from a single pair, or single hermaphrodite, or whether, as some authors suppose, from many individuals simultaneously created. With organic beings which never intercross, if such exist, each species, must be descended from a succession of modified varieties, that have supplanted each other, but have never blended with other individuals or varieties of the same species, so that, at each successive stage of modification, all the individuals of the same form will be descended from a single parent. But in the great majority of cases, namely, with all organisms which habitually unite for each birth, or which occasionally intercross, the individuals of the same species inhabiting the same area will be kept nearly uniform by intercrossing; so that many individuals will go on simultaneously changing, and the whole amount of modification at each stage will not be due to descent from a single parent. To illustrate what I mean: our English race-horses differ from the horses of every other breed; but they do not owe their difference and superiority to descent from any single pair, but to continued care in the selecting and training of many individuals during each generation.

Before discussing the three classes of facts, which I have selected as presenting the greatest amount of difficulty on the theory of "single centres of creation," I must say a few words on the means of dispersal.


Sir C. Lyell and other authors have ably treated this subject. I can give here only the briefest abstract of the more important facts. Change of climate must have had a powerful influence on migration. A region now impassable to certain organisms from the nature of its climate, might have been a high road for migration, when the climate was different. I shall, however, presently have to discuss this branch of the subject in some detail. Changes of level in the land must also have been highly influential: a narrow isthmus now separates two marine faunas; submerge it, or let it formerly have been submerged, and the two faunas will now blend together, or may formerly have blended. Where the sea now extends, land may at a former period have connected islands or possibly even continents together, and thus have allowed terrestrial productions to pass from one to the other. No geologist disputes that great mutations of level have occurred within the period of existing organisms. Edward Forbes insisted that all the islands in the Atlantic must have been recently connected with Europe or Africa, and Europe likewise with America. Other authors have thus hypothetically bridged over every ocean, and united almost every island with some mainland. If, indeed, the arguments used by Forbes are to be trusted, it must be admitted that scarcely a single island exists which has not recently been united to some continent. This view cuts the Gordian knot of the dispersal of the same species to the most distant points, and removes many a difficulty; but to the best of my judgment we are not authorized in admitting such enormous geographical changes within the period of existing species. It seems to me that we have abundant evidence of great oscillations in the level of the land or sea; but not of such vast changes in the position and extension of our continents, as to have united them within the recent period to each other and to the several intervening oceanic islands. I freely admit the former existence of many islands, now buried beneath the sea, which may have served as halting places for plants and for many animals during their migration. In the coral-producing oceans such sunken islands are now marked by rings of coral or atolls standing over them. Whenever it is fully admitted, as it will some day be, that each species has proceeded from a single birthplace, and when in the course of time we know something definite about the means of distribution, we shall be enabled to speculate with security on the former extension of the land. But I do not believe that it will ever be proved that within the recent period most of our continents which now stand quite separate, have been continuously, or almost continuously united with each other, and with the many existing oceanic islands. Several facts in distribution--such as the great difference in the marine faunas on the opposite sides of almost every continent--the close relation of the tertiary inhabitants of several lands and even seas to their present inhabitants--the degree of affinity between the mammals inhabiting islands with those of the nearest continent, being in part determined (as we shall hereafter see) by the depth of the intervening ocean--these and other such facts are opposed to the admission of such prodigious geographical revolutions within the recent period, as are necessary on the view advanced by Forbes and admitted by his followers. The nature and relative proportions of the inhabitants of oceanic islands are likewise opposed to the belief of their former continuity of continents. Nor does the almost universally volcanic composition of such islands favour the admission that they are the wrecks of sunken continents; if they had originally existed as continental mountain ranges, some at least of the islands would have been formed, like other mountain summits, of granite, metamorphic schists, old fossiliferous and other rocks, instead of consisting of mere piles of volcanic matter.

I must now say a few words on what are called accidental means, but which more properly should be called occasional means of distribution. I shall here confine myself to plants. In botanical works, this or that plant is often stated to be ill adapted for wide dissemination; but the greater or less facilities for transport across the sea may be said to be almost wholly unknown. Until I tried, with Mr. Berkeley's aid, a few experiments, it was not even known how far seeds could resist the injurious action of sea-water. To my surprise I found that out of eighty-seven kinds, sixty- four germinated after an immersion of twenty-eight days, and a few survived an immersion of 137 days. It deserves notice that certain orders were far more injured than others: nine Leguminosae were tried, and, with one exception, they resisted the salt-water badly; seven species of the allied orders, Hydrophyllaceae and Polemoniaceae, were all killed by a month's immersion. For convenience sake I chiefly tried small seeds without the capsules or fruit; and as all of these sank in a few days, they could not have been floated across wide spaces of the sea, whether or not they were injured by salt water. Afterwards I tried some larger fruits, capsules, etc., and some of these floated for a long time. It is well known what a difference there is in the buoyancy of green and seasoned timber; and it occurred to me that floods would often wash into the sea dried plants or branches with seed-capsules or fruit attached to them. Hence I was led to dry the stems and branches of ninety-four plants with ripe fruit, and to place them on sea-water. The majority sank quickly, but some which, whilst green, floated for a very short time, when dried floated much longer; for instance, ripe hazel-nuts sank immediately, but when dried they floated for ninety days, and afterwards when planted germinated; an asparagus plant with ripe berries floated for twenty-three days, when dried it floated for eighty-five days, and the seeds afterwards germinated: the ripe seeds of Helosciadium sank in two days, when dried they floated for above ninety days, and afterwards germinated. Altogether, out of the ninety-four dried plants, eighteen floated for above twenty-eight days; and some of the eighteen floated for a very much longer period. So that as 64/87 kinds of seeds germinated after an immersion of twenty-eight days; and as 18/94 distinct species with ripe fruit (but not all the same species as in the foregoing experiment) floated, after being dried, for above twenty-eight days, we may conclude, as far as anything can be inferred from these scanty facts, that the seeds of 14/100 kinds of plants of any country might be floated by sea-currents during twenty-eight days, and would retain their power of germination. In Johnston's Physical Atlas, the average rate of the several Atlantic currents is thirty-three miles per diem (some currents running at the rate of sixty miles per diem); on this average, the seeds of 14/100 plants belonging to one country might be floated across 924 miles of sea to another country; and when stranded, if blown by an inland gale to a favourable spot, would germinate.

Subsequently to my experiments, M. Martens tried similar ones, but in a much better manner, for he placed the seeds in a box in the actual sea, so that they were alternately wet and exposed to the air like really floating plants. He tried ninety-eight seeds, mostly different from mine, but he chose many large fruits, and likewise seeds, from plants which live near the sea; and this would have favoured both the average length of their flotation and their resistance to the injurious action of the salt-water. On the other hand, he did not previously dry the plants or branches with the fruit; and this, as we have seen, would have caused some of them to have floated much longer. The result was that 18/98 of his seeds of different kinds floated for forty-two days, and were then capable of germination. But I do not doubt that plants exposed to the waves would float for a less time than those protected from violent movement as in our experiments. Therefore, it would perhaps be safer to assume that the seeds of about 10/100 plants of a flora, after having been dried, could be floated across a space of sea 900 miles in width, and would then germinate. The fact of the larger fruits often floating longer than the small, is interesting; as plants with large seeds or fruit which, as Alph. de Candolle has shown, generally have restricted ranges, could hardly be transported by any other means.

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