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|OriginOfSpecies - 475 Rows|
|04 - Natural Selection||04-03 - Its Power on Characters of Trifling Importance||10||
It may metaphorically be said that natural selection is daily and hourly scrutinising, throughout the world, the slightest variations; rejecting those that are bad, preserving and adding up all that are good; silently and insensibly working, whenever and wherever opportunity offers, at the improvement of each organic being in relation to its organic and inorganic conditions of life.
We see nothing of these slow changes in progress, until the hand of time has marked the lapse of ages, and then so imperfect is our view into long-past geological ages, that we see only that the forms of life are now different from what they formerly were.
In order that any great amount of modification should be effected in a species, a variety when once formed must again, perhaps after a long interval of time, vary or present individual differences of the same favourable nature as before; and these must be again preserved, and so onwards step by step.
Seeing that individual differences of the same kind perpetually recur, this can hardly be considered as an unwarrantable assumption.
But whether it is true, we can judge only by seeing how far the hypothesis accords with and explains the general phenomena of nature. On the other hand, the ordinary belief that the amount of possible variation is a strictly limited quantity is likewise a simple assumption.
Although natural selection can act only through and for the good of each being, yet characters and structures, which we are apt to consider as of very trifling importance, may thus be acted on.
When we see leaf-eating insects green and bark-feeders mottled-grey; the alpine ptarmigan white in winter, the red grouse the colour of heather, we must believe that these tints are of service to these birds and insects in preserving them from danger.
Grouse, if not destroyed at some period of their lives, would increase in countless numbers; they are known to suffer largely from birds of prey; and hawks are guided by eyesight to their prey- so much so, that on parts of the Continent persons are warned not to keep white pigeons, as being the most liable to destruction.
Hence natural selection might be effective in giving the proper colour to each kind of grouse, and in keeping that colour, when once acquired, true and constant.
Nor ought we to think that the occasional destruction of an animal of any particular colour would produce little effect: we should remember how essential it is in a flock of white sheep to destroy a lamb with the faintest trace of black.
We have seen how the colour of the hogs, which feed on the "paint-root" in Virginia, determines whether they shall live or die.
In plants, the down on the fruit and the colour of the
flesh are considered by botanists as characters of the most
trifling importance: yet we hear from an excellent
horticulturist, Downing, that in the United States,
smooth-skinned fruits suffer far more from a beetle, a
Curculio, than those with down; that purple plums suffer far
more from a certain disease than yellow plums; whereas
another disease attacks yellow-fleshed peaches far more
than those with other coloured flesh. If, with all the aids of art,
these slight differences make a great difference in cultivating
the several varieties, assuredly, in a state of nature, where
the trees would have to struggle with other trees, and with a
host of enemies, such differences would effectually settle
which variety, whether a smooth or downy, a yellow or purple
fleshed fruit, should succeed.
|04 - Natural Selection||04-11 - Divergence of Character||110||
The intervals between the horizontal lines in the diagram, may represent each a thousand or more generations.
After a thousand generations, species (A) is supposed to have produced two fairly well-marked varieties, namely a1 and m1.
These two varieties will generally still be exposed to the same conditions which made their parents variable, and the tendency to variability is in itself hereditary; consequently they will likewise tend to vary, and commonly in nearly the same manner as did their parents.
Moreover, these two varieties, being only slightly modified forms, will tend to inherit those advantages which made their parent (A) more numerous than most of the other inhabitants of the same country; they will also partake of those more general advantages which made the genus to which the parent-species belonged, a large genus in its own country.
And all these circumstances are favourable to the production of new varieties.
|04 - Natural Selection||04-11 - Divergence of Character||120||
If, then, these two varieties be variable, the most divergent of their variations will generally be preserved during the next thousand generations.
And after this interval, variety a1 is supposed in the diagram to have produced variety a2, which will, owing to the principle of divergence, differ more from (A) than did variety a1.
Variety m1 is supposed to have produced two varieties, namely m2 and s2, differing from each other, and more considerably from their common parent (A).
We may continue the process by similar steps for any length of time; some of the varieties, after each thousand generations, producing only a single variety, but in a more and more modified condition, some producing two or three varieties, and some failing to produce any.
Thus the varieties or modified descendants of the common parent (A), will generally go on increasing in number and diverging in character. In the diagram the process is represented up to the ten-thousandth generation, and under a condensed and simplified form up to the fourteen-thousandth generation.
|04 - Natural Selection||04-11 - Divergence of Character||130||
But I must here remark that I do not suppose that the process ever goes on so regularly as is represented in the diagram, though in itself made somewhat irregular, nor that it goes on continuously; it is far more probable that each form remains for long periods unaltered, and then again undergoes modification.
Nor do I suppose that the most divergent varieties are invariably preserved: a medium form may often long endure, and may or may not produce more than one modified descendant; for natural selection will always act according to the nature of the places which are either unoccupied or not perfectly occupied by other beings; and this will depend on infinitely complex relations.
But as a general rule, the more diversified in structure the descendants from any one species can be rendered, the more places they will be enabled to seize on, and the more their modified progeny will increase. In our diagram the line of succession is broken at regular intervals by small numbered letters marking the successive forms which have become sufficiently distinct to be recorded as varieties.
But these breaks are imaginary, and might have been inserted anywhere, after intervals long enough to allow the accumulation of a considerable amount of divergent variation.