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01 - Variations Under Domestication 01-04 - Inheritance 40 Having alluded to the subject of reversion, I may here refer to a statement often made by naturalists- namely, that our domestic varieties, when run wild, gradually but invariably revert in character to their aboriginal stocks.

Hence it has been argued that no deductions can be drawn from domestic races to species in a state of nature.

I have in vain endeavoured to discover on what decisive facts the above statement has so often and so boldly been made.

There would be great difficulty in proving its truth: we may safely conclude that very many of the most strongly marked domestic varieties could not possibly live in a wild state.

In many cases, we do not know what the aboriginal stock was, and so could not tell whether or not nearly perfect reversion had ensued. It would be necessary, in order to prevent the effects of intercrossing, that only a single variety should have been turned loose in its new home.

Nevertheless, as our varieties certainly do occasionally revert in some of their characters to ancestral forms, it seems to me not improbable that if we could succeed in naturalising, or were to cultivate, during many generations, the several races, for instance, of the cabbage, in very poor soil (in which case, however, some effect would have to be attributed to the definite action of the poor soil), that they would, to a large extent, or even wholly,
revert to the wild aboriginal stock.

cabbage
cabbage
.

Whether or not the experiment would succeed, is not of great importance for our line of argument; for by the experiment itself the conditions of life are changed.

Heisenberg
Heisenberg
.

If it could be shown that our domestic varieties manifested a strong tendency to reversion,- that is, to lose their acquired characters, whilst kept under the same conditions, and whilst kept in a considerable body, so that free intercrossing might check, by blending together, any slight deviations in their structure, in such case, I grant that we could deduce nothing from domestic varieties
in regard to species. But there is not a shadow of evidence in favour of this view: to assert that we could not breed our cart- and race-horses, long and short-horned cattle, and poultry of various breeds, and esculent vegetables, for an unlimited number of generations, would be opposed to all experience.
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horses
horses

cow
cow

fowl
fowl
01 - Variations Under Domestication 01-07 - Origin of Domestic Varieties from one or more Species 40 From facts communicated to me by Mr. Blyth, on the habits, voice, constitution, and structure of the humped Indian cattle, it is almost certain that they are descended from a different aboriginal stock from our European cattle;
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and some competent judges believe that these latter have had two or three wild progenitors,- whether or not these deserve to be called species.

This conclusion, as well as that of the specific distinction between the humped and common cattle, may, indeed, be looked upon as established by the admirable researches of Professor Rutimeyer.

With respect to horses, from reasons which I cannot here give, I am doubtfully inclined to believe, in opposition to several authors, that all the races belong to the same species.

horses
horses
01 - Variations Under Domestication 01-08 - Breeds of the Domestic Pigeons, their Differences and Origin 40 Great as are the differences between the breeds of the pigeon, I am fully convinced that the common opinion of naturalists is correct, namely, that all are descended from the rock-pigeon (Columba livia), including under this term several geographical races or sub-species, which differ from each other in the most trifling respects.
Rock Pigeon
Rock Pigeon


As several of the reasons which have led me to this belief are in some degree applicable in other cases, I will here briefly give them. If the several breeds are not varieties, and have not proceeded from the rock-pigeon, they must have descended from at least seven or eight aboriginal stocks; for it is impossible to make the present domestic breeds by the crossing of any lesser number: how, for instance, could a pouter be produced by crossing two breeds unless one of the parent-stocks possessed the characteristic enormous crop?
Pouter Pigeon
Pouter Pigeon


The supposed aboriginal stocks must all have been rock-pigeons, that is, they did not breed or willingly perch on trees.

But besides C. livia, with its geographical sub-species, only two or three other species of rock-pigeons are known; and these have not any of the characters of the domestic breeds.

Hence the supposed aboriginal stocks must either still exist in the countries where they were originally domesticated, and yet be unknown to ornithologists; and this, considering their size, habits, and remarkable characters, seems improbable; or they must have become extinct in the wild state.

But birds breeding on precipices, and good fliers, are unlikely to be exterminated; and the common rock-pigeon, which has the same habits with the domestic breeds, has not been exterminated even on several of the smaller British islets, or on the shores of the Mediterranean.

Mediterranean
Mediterranean


Hence the supposed extermination of so many species having similar habits with the rock-pigeon seems a very rash assumption.

Moreover, the several above-named domesticated breeds have been transported to all parts of the world, and, therefore, some of them must have been carried back again into their native country; but not one has become wild or feral, though the dovecot-pigeon, which is the rock-pigeon in very slightly altered state, has become feral in several places.

Again, all recent experience shows that it is difficult to get wild animals to breed freely under domestication, yet on the hypothesis of the multiple origin of our pigeons, it must be assumed that at least seven or eight species were so thoroughly domesticated in ancient times by half-civilised man, as to be quite prolific under confinement.

An argument of great weight, and applicable in several other cases, is, that the above-specified breeds, though agreeing generally with the wild rock-pigeon in constitution, habits, voice, colouring, and in most parts of their structure, yet are certainly highly abnormal in other parts; we may look in vain through the whole great family of Columbidae for a beak like that of the English carrier, or that of the short-faced tumbler, or barb; for reversed feathers like those of the Jacobin; for a crop like that of the pouter; for tail-feathers like those of the fantail.
Rock Pigeon
Rock Pigeon

English Carrier Pigeon
English Carrier Pigeon

Short Faced Tumbler Pigeon
Short Faced Tumbler Pigeon

Barb Pigeon
Barb Pigeon

Jacobin Pigeon
Jacobin Pigeon

Pouter Pigeon
Pouter Pigeon

Fantail Pigeon
Fantail Pigeon


Hence it must be assumed not only that half-civilised man succeeded in thoroughly domesticating several species, but that he intentionally or by chance picked out extraordinarily abnormal species; and further, that these very species have since all become extinct or unknown.

So many strange contingencies are improbable in the highest degree.
01 - Variations Under Domestication 01-09 - Principles of Selection anciently followed, and their Effects 40 The same principles are followed by horticulturists; but the variations are here often more abrupt.

No one supposes that our choicest productions have been produced by a single variation from the aboriginal stock.

We have proofs that this has not been so in several cases in which exact records have been kept; thus, to give a very trifling instance, the steadily-increasing size of the common gooseberry may be quoted.

gooseberry
gooseberry


We see an astonishing improvement in many florists' flowers, when the flowers of the present day are compared with drawings made only twenty or thirty years ago.

When a race of plants is once pretty well established, the seed-raisers do not pick out the best plants, but merely go over their seed-beds, and pull up the "rogues," as they call the plants that deviate from the proper standard.

With animals this kind of selection is, in fact, likewise followed; for hardly any one is so careless as to breed from his worst animals.