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Geographical Distribution - Chapter XII

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During the slowly decreasing warmth of the Pliocene period, as soon as the species in common, which inhabited the New and Old Worlds, migrated south of the Polar Circle, they will have been completely cut off from each other. This separation, as far as the more temperate productions are concerned, must have taken place long ages ago. As the plants and animals migrated southward, they will have become mingled in the one great region with the native American productions, and would have had to compete with them; and in the other great region, with those of the Old World. Consequently we have here everything favourable for much modification--for far more modification than with the Alpine productions, left isolated, within a much more recent period, on the several mountain ranges and on the arctic lands of Europe and North America. Hence, it has come, that when we compare the now living productions of the temperate regions of the New and Old Worlds, we find very few identical species (though Asa Gray has lately shown that more plants are identical than was formerly supposed), but we find in every great class many forms, which some naturalists rank as geographical races, and others as distinct species; and a host of closely allied or representative forms which are ranked by all naturalists as specifically distinct.

As on the land, so in the waters of the sea, a slow southern migration of a marine fauna, which, during the Pliocene or even a somewhat earlier period, was nearly uniform along the continuous shores of the Polar Circle, will account, on the theory of modification, for many closely allied forms now living in marine areas completely sundered. Thus, I think, we can understand the presence of some closely allied, still existing and extinct tertiary forms, on the eastern and western shores of temperate North America; and the still more striking fact of many closely allied crustaceans (as described in Dana's admirable work), some fish and other marine animals, inhabiting the Mediterranean and the seas of Japan--these two areas being now completely separated by the breadth of a whole continent and by wide spaces of ocean.

These cases of close relationship in species either now or formerly inhabiting the seas on the eastern and western shores of North America, the Mediterranean and Japan, and the temperate lands of North America and Europe, are inexplicable on the theory of creation. We cannot maintain that such species have been created alike, in correspondence with the nearly similar physical conditions of the areas; for if we compare, for instance, certain parts of South America with parts of South Africa or Australia, we see countries closely similar in all their physical conditions, with their inhabitants utterly dissimilar.


But we must return to our more immediate subject. I am convinced that Forbes's view may be largely extended. In Europe we meet with the plainest evidence of the Glacial period, from the western shores of Britain to the Ural range, and southward to the Pyrenees. We may infer from the frozen mammals and nature of the mountain vegetation, that Siberia was similarly affected. In the Lebanon, according to Dr. Hooker, perpetual snow formerly covered the central axis, and fed glaciers which rolled 4,000 feet down the valleys. The same observer has recently found great moraines at a low level on the Atlas range in North Africa. Along the Himalaya, at points 900 miles apart, glaciers have left the marks of their former low descent; and in Sikkim, Dr. Hooker saw maize growing on ancient and gigantic moraines. Southward of the Asiatic continent, on the opposite side of the equator, we know, from the excellent researches of Dr. J. Haast and Dr. Hector, that in New Zealand immense glaciers formerly descended to a low level; and the same plants, found by Dr. Hooker on widely separated mountains in this island tell the same story of a former cold period. From facts communicated to me by the Rev. W.B. Clarke, it appears also that there are traces of former glacial action on the mountains of the south- eastern corner of Australia.

Looking to America: in the northern half, ice-borne fragments of rock have been observed on the eastern side of the continent, as far south as latitude 36 and 37 degrees, and on the shores of the Pacific, where the climate is now so different, as far south as latitude 46 degrees. Erratic boulders have, also, been noticed on the Rocky Mountains. In the Cordillera of South America, nearly under the equator, glaciers once extended far below their present level. In central Chile I examined a vast mound of detritus with great boulders, crossing the Portillo valley, which, there can hardly be a doubt, once formed a huge moraine; and Mr. D. Forbes informs me that he found in various parts of the Cordillera, from latitude 13 to 30 degrees south, at about the height of 12,000 feet, deeply-furrowed rocks, resembling those with which he was familiar in Norway, and likewise great masses of detritus, including grooved pebbles. Along this whole space of the Cordillera true glaciers do not now exist even at much more considerable heights. Further south, on both sides of the continent, from latitude 41 degrees to the southernmost extremity, we have the clearest evidence of former glacial action, in numerous immense boulders transported far from their parent source.

>From these several facts, namely, from the glacial action having extended all round the northern and southern hemispheres--from the period having been in a geological sense recent in both hemispheres--from its having lasted in both during a great length of time, as may be inferred from the amount of work effected--and lastly, from glaciers having recently descended to a low level along the whole line of the Cordillera, it at one time appeared to me that we could not avoid the conclusion that the temperature of the whole world had been simultaneously lowered during the Glacial period. But now, Mr. Croll, in a series of admirable memoirs, has attempted to show that a glacial condition of climate is the result of various physical causes, brought into operation by an increase in the eccentricity of the earth's orbit. All these causes tend towards the same end; but the most powerful appears to be the indirect influence of the eccentricity of the orbit upon oceanic currents. According to Mr. Croll, cold periods regularly recur every ten or fifteen thousand years; and these at long intervals are extremely severe, owing to certain contingencies, of which the most important, as Sir C. Lyell has shown, is the relative position of the land and water. Mr. Croll believes that the last great glacial period occurred about 240,000 years ago, and endured, with slight alterations of climate, for about 160,000 years. With respect to more ancient glacial periods, several geologists are convinced, from direct evidence, that such occurred during the miocene and eocene formations, not to mention still more ancient formations. But the most important result for us, arrived at by Mr. Croll, is that whenever the northern hemisphere passes through a cold period the temperature of the southern hemisphere is actually raised, with the winters rendered much milder, chiefly through changes in the direction of the ocean currents. So conversely it will be with the northern hemisphere, while the southern passes through a glacial period. This conclusion throws so much light on geographical distribution that I am strongly inclined to trust in it; but I will first give the facts which demand an explanation.

In South America, Dr. Hooker has shown that besides many closely allied species, between forty and fifty of the flowering plants of Tierra del Fuego, forming no inconsiderable part of its scanty flora, are common to North America and Europe, enormously remote as these areas in opposite hemispheres are from each other. On the lofty mountains of equatorial America a host of peculiar species belonging to European genera occur. On the Organ Mountains of Brazil some few temperate European, some Antarctic and some Andean genera were found by Gardner which do not exist in the low intervening hot countries. On the Silla of Caraccas the illustrious Humboldt long ago found species belonging to genera characteristic of the Cordillera.

In Africa, several forms characteristic of Europe, and some few representatives of the flora of the Cape of Good Hope, occur on the mountains of Abyssinia. At the Cape of Good Hope a very few European species, believed not to have been introduced by man, and on the mountains several representative European forms are found which have not been discovered in the intertropical parts of Africa. Dr. Hooker has also lately shown that several of the plants living on the upper parts of the lofty island of Fernando Po, and on the neighbouring Cameroon Mountains, in the Gulf of Guinea, are closely related to those on the mountains of Abyssinia, and likewise to those of temperate Europe. It now also appears, as I hear from Dr. Hooker, that some of these same temperate plants have been discovered by the Rev. R.T. Lowe on the mountains of the Cape Verde Islands. This extension of the same temperate forms, almost under the equator, across the whole continent of Africa and to the mountains of the Cape Verde archipelago, is one of the most astonishing facts ever recorded in the distribution of plants.

On the Himalaya, and on the isolated mountain ranges of the peninsula of India, on the heights of Ceylon, and on the volcanic cones of Java, many plants occur either identically the same or representing each other, and at the same time representing plants of Europe not found in the intervening hot lowlands. A list of the genera of plants collected on the loftier peaks of Java, raises a picture of a collection made on a hillock in Europe. Still more striking is the fact that peculiar Australian forms are represented by certain plants growing on the summits of the mountains of Borneo. Some of these Australian forms, as I hear from Dr. Hooker, extend along the heights of the peninsula of Malacca, and are thinly scattered on the one hand over India, and on the other hand as far north as Japan.

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