M Database Inspector (cheetah)
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|01 - Variations Under Domestication||01-11 - Unknown Origin of our Domestic Productions||50||
These views appear to explain what has sometimes been noticed- namely, that we know hardly anything about the origin or history of any of our domestic breeds.
But, in fact, a breed, like a dialect of a language, can hardly be said to have a distinct origin.
Man preserves and breeds from an individual with some slight deviation of structure, or takes more care than usual in matching his best animals, and thus improves them, and the improved animals slowly spread in the immediate neighbourhood.
But they will as yet hardly have a distinct name, and from being only slightly valued, their history will have been disregarded.
When further improved by the same slow and gradual process, they will spread more widely, and will be recognised as something distinct and valuable, and will then probably first receive a provincial name. In semi-civilised countries, with little free communication, the spreading of a new sub-breed would be a slow process.
As soon as the points of value are once acknowledged, the principle, as I have called it, of unconscious selection will always tend,- perhaps more at one period than at another, as the breed rises or falls in fashion,- perhaps more in one district than in another, according to the state of civilisation of the inhabitants,- slowly to add to the characteristic features of the breed, whatever they may be.
But the chance will be infinitely small of any record having been preserved of such slow, varying, and insensible changes.
|01 - Variations Under Domestication||01-12 - Circumstances favourable to Man's Power of Selection||10||
I will now say a few words on the circumstances, favourable, or the reverse, to man's power of selection.
A high degree of variability is obviously favourable, as freely giving the materials for selection to work on; not that mere individual differences are not amply sufficient, with extreme care, to allow of the accumulation of a large amount of modification in almost any desired direction.
But as variations manifestly useful or pleasing to man appear only occasionally, the chance of their appearance will be much increased by a large number of individuals being kept Hence, number is of the highest importance for success.
On this principle Marshall formerly remarked, with respect to the sheep of parts of Yorkshire, "as they generally belong to poor people, and are mostly in small lots, they never can be improved." On the other hand, nurserymen, from keeping large stocks of the same plant, are generally far more successful than amateurs in raising new and valuable varieties.
A large number of individuals of an animal or plant can be reared only where the conditions for its propagation are favourable. When the individuals are scanty, all will be allowed to breed, whatever their quality may be, and this will effectually prevent selection.
But probably the most important element is that the animal or plant should be so highly valued by man, that the closest attention is paid to even the slightest deviations in its qualities or structure.
Unless such attention be paid nothing can be effected.
I have seen it gravely remarked, that it was most fortunate that the strawberry began to vary just when gardeners began to attend to this plant.
No doubt the strawberry had always varied since it was cultivated, but the slightest varieties had been neglected.
As soon, however, as gardeners picked out individual plants with slightly larger, earlier, or better fruit, and raised seedlings from them, and again picked out the best seedlings and bred from them, then (with some aid by crossing distinct species) those many admirable varieties of the strawberry were raised which have appeared during the last half-century.
|01 - Variations Under Domestication||01-12 - Circumstances favourable to Man's Power of Selection||20||
With animals, facility in preventing crosses is an important element in the formation of new races,- at least, in a country which is already stocked with other races.
In this respect enclosure of the land plays a part. Wandering savages or the inhabitants of open plains rarely possess more than one breed of the same species.
Pigeons can be mated for life, and this is a great convenience to the fancier, for thus many races may be improved and kept true, though mingled in the same aviary; and this circumstance must have largely favoured the formation of new breeds.
Pigeons, I may add, can be propagated in great numbers and at a very quick rate, and inferior birds may be freely rejected, as when killed they serve for food.
On the other hand, cats from their nocturnal rambling habits
cannot be easily matched, and, although so much valued by women and children, we rarely see a distinct breed long kept up; such breeds as we do sometimes see are almost always imported from some other country.
Although I do not doubt that some domestic animals vary less than others, yet the rarity or absence of distinct breeds of the cat, the donkey, peacock, goose, &c., may be attributed in main part to selection not having been brought into play: in cats, from the difficulty in pairing them; in donkeys, from only a few being kept by poor people, and little attention paid to their breeding; for recently in
certain parts of Spain and of the United States this animal has been surprisingly modified and improved by careful selection: in peacocks, from not being very easily reared and a large stock not kept: in geese, from being valuable only for two purposes, food and feathers, and more especially from no pleasure having been felt in the display of distinct breeds.
|01 - Variations Under Domestication||01-12 - Circumstances favourable to Man's Power of Selection||30||
But the goose, under the conditions to which it is exposed when domesticated seems to have a singularly inflexible organisation, though it has varied to a slight extent, as I have elsewhere described.
Some authors have maintained that the amount of variation in our domestic productions is soon reached, and can never afterwards be exceeded.
It would be somewhat rash to assert that the limit has been attained in any one case; for almost all our animals and plants have been greatly improved in many ways within a recent period; and this implies variation.
It would be equally rash to assert that characters now increased to their utmost limit, could not, after remaining fixed for many centuries, again vary under new conditions of life.
No doubt, as Mr. Wallace has remarked with much truth, a limit will be at last reached. For instance, there must be a limit to the fleetness of any terrestrial animal, as this will be determined by the friction to be overcome, the weight of body to be carried, and the power of contraction in the muscular
But what concerns us is that the domestic varieties of the same species differ from each other in almost every character, which man has attended to and selected, more than do the distinct species of the same genera.
Isidore Geoffroy St-Hilaire has proved this in regard to size, and so it is with colour and probably with the length of hair.
With respect to fleetness, which depends on many bodily characters, Eclipse was far fleeter, and a dray-horse is incomparably stronger than any two natural species belonging to the same genus.
So with plants, the seeds of the different varieties of the bean or maize probably differ more in size, than do the seeds of the distinct species in any one genus in the same two families. The same remark holds good in regard to the fruit of the several varieties of the plum, and still more strongly with the melon, as well as in many other analogous cases.