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|04 - Natural Selection||04-14 - Summary of Chapter||10||
If under changing conditions of life organic beings present individual differences in almost every part of their structure, and this cannot be disputed; if there be, owing to their geometrical rate of increase, a severe struggle for life at some age, season, or year, and this certainly cannot be disputed; then, considering the infinite complexity of the relations of all organic beings to each other and to their conditions of life, causing an infinite diversity in structure, constitution, and habits, to be advantageous to them, it would be a most extraordinary fact if no variations had ever occurred useful to each being's own welfare, in the same manner as so many variations have occurred useful to man.
But if variations useful to any organic being ever do occur, assuredly individuals thus characterised will have the best chance of being preserved in the struggle for life; and from the strong principle of inheritance, these will tend to produce offspring similarly characterised.
This principle of preservation, or the survival of the fittest, I have called Natural Selection. It leads to the improvement of each creature in relation to its organic and inorganic conditions of life, and consequently, in most cases, to what must be regarded as an advance in organisation.
Nevertheless, low and simple forms will long endure if well fitted for their simple conditions of life. Natural selection, on the principle of qualities being inherited at corresponding ages, can modify the egg, seed, or young, as easily as the adult.
Amongst many animals, sexual selection will have given its aid to ordinary selection, by assuring to the most vigorous and best adapted males the greatest number of offspring.
Sexual selection will also give characters useful to the males alone, in their struggles or rivalry with other males; and these characters will be transmitted to one sex or to both sexes, according to the form of inheritance which prevails.
|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.
|05 - Laws of Variation||05-11 - Species of the Same Genus Vary in an Analogous Manner||10||
Distinct Species present analagous Variations, so that a Variety of one Species often assumes a Character proper to an Allied Species, or reverts to some of the Characters of an early Progenitor.- These propositions will be most readily understood by looking to our domestic races.
The most distinct breeds of the pigeon, in countries widely apart, present sub-varieties with reversed feathers on the head, and with feathers on the feet,- characters not possessed by the aboriginal rock-pigeon; these then are analogous variations in two or more distinct races.
The frequent presence of fourteen or even sixteen tail-feathers in the pouter may be considered as a variation representing the normal structure of another race, the fan-tail.
I presume that no one will doubt that all such analogous variations are due to the several races of the pigeon having inherited from a common parent the same constitution and tendency to variation, when acted on by similar unknown influences.
In the vegetable kingdom we have a case of analogous variation, in the enlarged stems, or as commonly called roots, of the Swedish turnip and Rutabaga, plants which several botanists rank as varieties produced by cultivation from a common parent: if this be not so, the case will then be one of analogous variation in two so-called distinct species; and to these a third may be added, namely, the common turnip.
According to the ordinary view of each species having been independently created, we should have to attribute this similarity in the enlarged stems of these three plants, not to the vera causa of community of descent, and a consequent tendency to vary in a like manner, but to three separate yet closely related acts of creation.
|05 - Laws of Variation||05-09 - Specific Characters more Variable than Generic Characters||10||
The principle discussed under the last heading may be applied to our present subject. It is notorious that specific characters are more variable than generic.
To explain by a simple example what is meant: if in a large genus of plants some species had blue flowers and some had red, the colour would be only a specific character, and no one would be surprised at one of the blue species varying into red, or conversely; but if all the species had blue flowers, the colour would become a generic character, and its variation would be a more unusual circumstance.
I have chosen this example because the explanation which most naturalists would advance is not here applicable, namely, that specific characters are more variable than generic, because they are taken from parts of less physiological importance than those commonly used for classing genera.
I believe this explanation is partly, yet only indirectly, true; I shall, however, have to return to this point in the chapter on Classification.
It would be almost superfluous to adduce evidence in support of the statement, that ordinary specific characters are more variable than generic; but with respect to important characters I have repeatedly noticed in works on natural history, that when an author remarks with surprise that some important organ or part, which is generally very constant throughout a large group of species, differs considerably in closely-allied species, it is often variable in the individuals of the same species.
And this fact shows that a character, which is generally of generic value, when it sinks in value and becomes only of specific value, often becomes variable, though its physiological importance may remain the same.
Something of the same kind applies to monstrosities: at least Isidore Geoffroy St-Hilaire apparently entertains no doubt that the more an organ normally differs in the different species of the same group, the more subject it is to anomalies in the individuals.