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Geographical Distribution - Chapter XII

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On the southern mountains of Australia, Dr. F. Muller has discovered several European species; other species, not introduced by man, occur on the lowlands; and a long list can be given, as I am informed by Dr. Hooker, of European genera, found in Australia, but not in the intermediate torrid regions. In the admirable "Introduction to the Flora of New Zealand," by Dr. Hooker, analogous and striking facts are given in regard to the plants of that large island. Hence, we see that certain plants growing on the more lofty mountains of the tropics in all parts of the world, and on the temperate plains of the north and south, are either the same species or varieties of the same species. It should, however, be observed that these plants are not strictly arctic forms; for, as Mr. H.C. Watson has remarked, "in receding from polar toward equatorial latitudes, the Alpine or mountain flora really become less and less Arctic." Besides these identical and closely allied forms, many species inhabiting the same widely sundered areas, belong to genera not now found in the intermediate tropical lowlands.

These brief remarks apply to plants alone; but some few analogous facts could be given in regard to terrestrial animals. In marine productions, similar cases likewise occur; as an example, I may quote a statement by the highest authority, Prof. Dana, that "it is certainly a wonderful fact that New Zealand should have a closer resemblance in its crustacea to Great Britain, its antipode, than to any other part of the world." Sir J. Richardson, also, speaks of the reappearance on the shores of New Zealand, Tasmania, etc., of northern forms of fish. Dr. Hooker informs me that twenty-five species of Algae are common to New Zealand and to Europe, but have not been found in the intermediate tropical seas.

>From the foregoing facts, namely, the presence of temperate forms on the highlands across the whole of equatorial Africa, and along the Peninsula of India, to Ceylon and the Malay Archipelago, and in a less well-marked manner across the wide expanse of tropical South America, it appears almost certain that at some former period, no doubt during the most severe part of a Glacial period, the lowlands of these great continents were everywhere tenanted under the equator by a considerable number of temperate forms. At this period the equatorial climate at the level of the sea was probably about the same with that now experienced at the height of from five to six thousand feet under the same latitude, or perhaps even rather cooler. During this, the coldest period, the lowlands under the equator must have been clothed with a mingled tropical and temperate vegetation, like that described by Hooker as growing luxuriantly at the height of from four to five thousand feet on the lower slopes of the Himalaya, but with perhaps a still greater preponderance of temperate forms. So again in the mountainous island of Fernando Po, in the Gulf of Guinea, Mr. Mann found temperate European forms beginning to appear at the height of about five thousand feet. On the mountains of Panama, at the height of only two thousand feet, Dr. Seemann found the vegetation like that of Mexico, "with forms of the torrid zone harmoniously blended with those of the temperate."

Now let us see whether Mr. Croll's conclusion that when the northern hemisphere suffered from the extreme cold of the great Glacial period, the southern hemisphere was actually warmer, throws any clear light on the present apparently inexplicable distribution of various organisms in the temperate parts of both hemispheres, and on the mountains of the tropics. The Glacial period, as measured by years, must have been very long; and when we remember over what vast spaces some naturalised plants and animals have spread within a few centuries, this period will have been ample for any amount of migration. As the cold became more and more intense, we know that Arctic forms invaded the temperate regions; and from the facts just given, there can hardly be a doubt that some of the more vigorous, dominant and widest-spreading temperate forms invaded the equatorial lowlands. The inhabitants of these hot lowlands would at the same time have migrated to the tropical and subtropical regions of the south, for the southern hemisphere was at this period warmer. On the decline of the Glacial period, as both hemispheres gradually recovered their former temperature, the northern temperate forms living on the lowlands under the equator, would have been driven to their former homes or have been destroyed, being replaced by the equatorial forms returning from the south. Some, however, of the northern temperate forms would almost certainly have ascended any adjoining high land, where, if sufficiently lofty, they would have long survived like the Arctic forms on the mountains of Europe. They might have survived, even if the climate was not perfectly fitted for them, for the change of temperature must have been very slow, and plants undoubtedly possess a certain capacity for acclimatisation, as shown by their transmitting to their offspring different constitutional powers of resisting heat and cold.

In the regular course of events the southern hemisphere would in its turn be subjected to a severe Glacial period, with the northern hemisphere rendered warmer; and then the southern temperate forms would invade the equatorial lowlands. The northern forms which had before been left on the mountains would now descend and mingle with the southern forms. These latter, when the warmth returned, would return to their former homes, leaving some few species on the mountains, and carrying southward with them some of the northern temperate forms which had descended from their mountain fastnesses. Thus, we should have some few species identically the same in the northern and southern temperate zones and on the mountains of the intermediate tropical regions. But the species left during a long time on these mountains, or in opposite hemispheres, would have to compete with many new forms and would be exposed to somewhat different physical conditions; hence, they would be eminently liable to modification, and would generally now exist as varieties or as representative species; and this is the case. We must, also, bear in mind the occurrence in both hemispheres of former Glacial periods; for these will account, in accordance with the same principles, for the many quite distinct species inhabiting the same widely separated areas, and belonging to genera not now found in the intermediate torrid zones.

It is a remarkable fact, strongly insisted on by Hooker in regard to America, and by Alph. de Candolle in regard to Australia, that many more identical or slightly modified species have migrated from the north to the south, than in a reversed direction. We see, however, a few southern forms on the mountains of Borneo and Abyssinia. I suspect that this preponderant migration from the north to the south is due to the greater extent of land in the north, and to the northern forms having existed in their own homes in greater numbers, and having consequently been advanced through natural selection and competition to a higher stage of perfection, or dominating power, than the southern forms. And thus, when the two sets became commingled in the equatorial regions, during the alternations of the Glacial periods, the northern forms were the more powerful and were able to hold their places on the mountains, and afterwards migrate southward with the southern forms; but not so the southern in regard to the northern forms. In the same manner, at the present day, we see that very many European productions cover the ground in La Plata, New Zealand, and to a lesser degree in Australia, and have beaten the natives; whereas extremely few southern forms have become naturalised in any part of the northern hemisphere, though hides, wool, and other objects likely to carry seeds have been largely imported into Europe during the last two or three centuries from La Plata and during the last forty or fifty years from Australia. The Neilgherrie Mountains (Nilgiri Hills) in India, however, offer a partial exception; for here, as I hear from Dr. Hooker, Australian forms are rapidly sowing themselves and becoming naturalised. Before the last great Glacial period, no doubt the intertropical mountains were stocked with endemic Alpine forms; but these have almost everywhere yielded to the more dominant forms generated in the larger areas and more efficient workshops of the north. In many islands the native productions are nearly equalled, or even outnumbered, by those which have become naturalised; and this is the first stage towards their extinction. Mountains are islands on the land; and their inhabitants have yielded to those produced within the larger areas of the north, just in the same way as the inhabitants of real islands have everywhere yielded and are still yielding to continental forms naturalised through man's agency.

The same principles apply to the distribution of terrestrial animals and of marine productions, in the northern and southern temperate zones, and on the intertropical mountains. When, during the height of the Glacial period, the ocean-currents were widely different to what they now are, some of the inhabitants of the temperate seas might have reached the equator; of these a few would perhaps at once be able to migrate southwards, by keeping to the cooler currents, while others might remain and survive in the colder depths until the southern hemisphere was in its turn subjected to a glacial climate and permitted their further progress; in nearly the same manner as, according to Forbes, isolated spaces inhabited by Arctic productions exist to the present day in the deeper parts of the northern temperate seas.

I am far from supposing that all the difficulties in regard to the distribution and affinities of the identical and allied species, which now live so widely separated in the north and south, and sometimes on the intermediate mountain ranges, are removed on the views above given. The exact lines of migration cannot be indicated. We cannot say why certain species and not others have migrated; why certain species have been modified and have given rise to new forms, while others have remained unaltered. We cannot hope to explain such facts, until we can say why one species and not another becomes naturalised by man's agency in a foreign land; why one species ranges twice or thrice as far, and is twice or thrice as common, as another species within their own homes.

Various special difficulties also remain to be solved; for instance, the occurrence, as shown by Dr. Hooker, of the same plants at points so enormously remote as Kerguelen Land, New Zealand, and Fuegia; but icebergs, as suggested by Lyell, may have been concerned in their dispersal. The existence at these and other distant points of the southern hemisphere, of species, which, though distinct, belong to genera exclusively confined to the south, is a more remarkable case. Some of these species are so distinct, that we cannot suppose that there has been time since the commencement of the last Glacial period for their migration and subsequent modification to the necessary degree. The facts seem to indicate that distinct species belonging to the same genera have migrated in radiating lines from a common centre; and I am inclined to look in the southern, as in the northern hemisphere, to a former and warmer period, before the commencement of the last Glacial period, when the Antarctic lands, now covered with ice, supported a highly peculiar and isolated flora. It may be suspected that before this flora was exterminated during the last Glacial epoch, a few forms had been already widely dispersed to various points of the southern hemisphere by occasional means of transport, and by the aid, as halting-places, of now sunken islands. Thus the southern shores of America, Australia, and New Zealand may have become slightly tinted by the same peculiar forms of life.

Sir C. Lyell in a striking passage has speculated, in language almost identical with mine, on the effects of great alternations of climate throughout the world on geographical distribution. And we have now seen that Mr. Croll's conclusion that successive Glacial periods in the one hemisphere coincide with warmer periods in the opposite hemisphere, together with the admission of the slow modification of species, explains a multitude of facts in the distribution of the same and of the allied forms of life in all parts of the globe. The living waters have flowed during one period from the north and during another from the south, and in both cases have reached the equator; but the stream of life has flowed with greater force from the north than in the opposite direction, and has consequently more freely inundated the south. As the tide leaves its drift in horizontal lines, rising higher on the shores where the tide rises highest, so have the living waters left their living drift on our mountain summits, in a line gently rising from the Arctic lowlands to a great latitude under the equator. The various beings thus left stranded may be compared with savage races of man, driven up and surviving in the mountain fastnesses of almost every land, which serves as a record, full of interest to us, of the former inhabitants of the surrounding lowlands.

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