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|02 - Variations Under Nature||02-01 - Variability||10||
BEFORE applying the principles arrived at in the last chapter to organic beings in a state of nature, we must briefly discuss whether these latter are subject to any variation.
To treat this subject properly, a long catalogue of dry facts ought to be given; but these shall reserve for a future work.
Nor shall I here discuss the various definitions which have been given of the term species.
No one definition has satisfied all naturalists; yet every naturalist knows vaguely what he means when he speaks of a species.
Generally the term includes the unknown element of a distant act of creation. The term "variety" is almost equally difficult to define; but here community of descent is almost universally implied, though it can rarely be proved.
We have also what are called monstrosities; but they graduate into varieties.
By a monstrosity I presume is meant some considerable deviation of structure, generally injurious, or not useful to the species.
Some authors use the term "variation" in a technical sense, as implying a modification directly due to the physical conditions of life; and "variations" in this sense are supposed not to be inherited; but who can say that the dwarfed condition of shells in the brackish waters of the Baltic, or dwarfed plants on Alpine summits, or the thicker fur of an animal from far northwards, would not in some cases be inherited for at least a few generations?
And in this case I presume that the form would be called a variety.
|03 - Struggle for Existence||03-07 - Effects of Climate||10||
Climate plays an important part in determining the average number of a species, and periodical seasons of extreme cold or drought seem to be the most effective of all checks.
I estimated (chiefly from the greatly reduced numbers of nests in the spring) that the winter of 1854-5 destroyed four-fifths of the birds in my own grounds; and this is a tremendous destruction, when we remember that ten per cent is an extraordinarily severe mortality from epidemics with man.
The action of climate seems at first sight to be quite independent of the struggle for existence; but in so far as climate chiefly acts in reducing food, it brings on the most severe struggle between the individuals, whether of the same or of distinct species, which subsist on the same kind of food.
Even when climate, for instance, extreme cold, acts directly, it will be the least vigorous individuals, or those which have got least food through the advancing winter, which will suffer most.
When we travel from south to north, or from a damp region to a dry, we invariably see some species gradually getting rarer and rarer, and finally disappearing; and the change of climate being conspicuous, we are tempted to attribute the whole effect to its direct action.
But this is a false view; we forget that each species, even where it most abounds, is constantly suffering enormous destruction at some period of its life, from enemies or from competitors for the same place and food; and if these enemies or competitors be in the least degree favoured by any slight change of climate, they will increase in numbers; and as each area is already fully stocked with
inhabitants, the other species must decrease.
When we travel southward and see a species decreasing in numbers, we may feel sure that the cause lies quite as much in other species being favoured, as in this one being hurt.
So it is when we travel northward, but in a somewhat lesser degree, for the number of species of all kinds, and therefore of competitors, decreases northwards; hence in going northwards, or in ascending a mountain, we far oftener meet with stunted forms, due to the directly injurious action of climate, than we do in proceeding southwards or in descending a mountain.
When we reach the arctic regions, or snowcapped summits, or absolute deserts, the struggle for life is almost exclusively with the elements.
|02 - Variations Under Nature||02-02 - Individual Differences||10||
The many slight differences which appear in the offspring from the same parents, or which it may be presumed have thus arisen, from being observed in the individuals of the same species inhabiting the same confined locality, may be called individual differences.
No one supposes that all the individuals of the same species are cast in the same actual mould.
These individual differences are of the highest importance for us, for they are often inherited, as must be familiar to every one; and they thus afford materials for natural selection to act on and accumulate, in the same manner as man accumulates in any given direction individual differences in his domesticated productions.
These individual differences generally affect what naturalists consider unimportant parts; but I could show by a long catalogue of facts, that parts which must be called important, whether viewed under a physiological or classificatory point of view, sometimes vary in the individuals of the same species.
I am convinced that the most experienced naturalist would be surprised at the number of the cases of variability, even in important parts of structure, which he could collect on good authority, as I have collected, during a course of years.
It should be remembered that systematists are far from being pleased at finding variability in important characters, and that there are not many men who will laboriously examine internal and important organs, and compare them in many specimens of the same species.
It would never have been expected that the branching of the main nerves close to the great central ganglion of an insect would have been variable in the same species; it might have been thought that changes of this nature could have been effected only by slow degrees; yet Sir J. Lubbock has shown a degree of variability in these main nerves in Coccus, which may almost be compared to the irregular branching of a stem of a tree.
This philosophical naturalist, I may add, has also shown that the muscles in the larvae of certain insects are far from uniform.
Authors sometimes argue in a circle when they state that important organs never vary; for these same authors practically rank those parts as important (as some few naturalists have honestly confessed) which do not vary; and, under this point of view, no instance will ever be found of an important part varying; but under any other point of view many instances assuredly can be given.
There is one point connected with individual differences, which is extremely perplexing: I refer to those genera which have been called "protean" or "Polymorphic", in which the species present an inordinate amount of variation.
With respect to many of these forms, hardly two naturalists agree whether to rank them as species or as varieties.
We may instance Rubus, Rosa, and Hieracium amongst plants, several genera of and of brachiopod shells.
In most polymorphic genera some of the species have fixed and definite characters.
Genera which are polymorphic in one country seem to be, with a few exceptions, polymorphic in other countries, and likewise, judging from brachiopod shells, at former periods of time.
These facts are very perplexing, for they seem to show that this kind of variability is independent of the conditions of life.
I am inclined to suspect that we see, at least in some of these polymorphic genera, variations which are of no service or disservice to the species, and which consequently have not been seized on and rendered definite by natural selection as hereafter to be explained.
|02 - Variations Under Nature||02-03 - Doubtful Species||10||
The forms which possess in some considerable degree the character of species, but which are closely similar to other forms, or are so closely linked to them by intermediate gradations, that naturalists do not like to rank them as distinct species, are in several respects the most important for us.
We have every reason to believe that many of these doubtful and closely allied forms have permanently retained their characters for a long time; for as long, as far as we know, as have good and true species.
Practically, when a naturalist can unite by means of intermediate links any two forms, he treats the one as a variety of the other; ranking the most common, but sometimes the one first described, as the species, and the other as the variety.
But cases of great difficulty, which I will not here enumerate, sometimes arise in deciding whether or not to rank one form as a variety of another, even when they are closely connected by intermediate links; nor will the commonly-assumed hybrid nature of the intermediate forms always remove the difficulty.
In very many cases, however, one form is ranked as a variety of another, not because the intermediate links have actually been found, but because analogy leads the observer to suppose either that they do now somewhere exist, or may formerly have existed; and here a wide door for the entry of doubt and conjecture is opened.