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|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.
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Hence, in determining whether a form should be ranked as a species or a variety, the opinion of naturalists having sound judgment and wide experience seems the only guide to follow.
We must, however, in many cases, decide by a majority of naturalists, for few well-marked and well-known varieties can be named which have not been ranked as species by at least some competent judges.
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That varieties of this doubtful nature are far from uncommon cannot be disputed. Compare the several floras of Great Britain, of France, or of the United States, drawn up by different botanists, and see what a surprising number of forms have been ranked by one botanist as good species, and by another as mere varieties.
Mr. H. C. Watson, to whom I lie under deep obligation for assistance of all kinds, has marked for me 182 British plants, which are generally considered as varieties, but which have all been ranked by botanists as species; and, in making this list, he has omitted many trifling varieties, which nevertheless have been ranked by some botanists as species, and he has entirely omitted several highly polymorphic genera.
Under genera, including the most polymorphic forms, Mr. Babington gives 251 species, whereas Mr. Bentham gives only 112,- a difference of 139 doubtful forms!
Amongst animals which unite for each birth, and which are highly locomotive, doubtful forms, ranked by one zoologist as a species and by another as a variety, can rarely be found within the same country, but are common in separated areas.
How many of the birds and insects in North America and Europe, which differ very slightly from each other, have been ranked by one eminent naturalist as undoubted species, and by another as varieties, or, as they are often called, geographical races!
Mr. Wallace, in several valuable papers on the various animals, especially on the lepidoptera, inhabiting the islands of the great Malayan archipelago, shows that they may be classed under four heads, namely as variable forms, as local forms, as geographical races or sub-species, and as true representative species.
The first or variable forms vary much within the limits of the same island. The local forms are moderately constant and distinct in each separate island; but when all from the several islands are compared together, the differences are seen to be so slight and graduated, that it is impossible to define or describe them, though at the same time the extreme forms are sufficiently distinct.
The geographical races or sub-species are local forms completely fixed and isolated; but as they do not differ from each other by strongly marked and important characters, "there is no possible test but individual opinion to determine which of them shall be considered as species and which as varieties."
Lastly, representative species fill the same place in the natural economy of each island as do the local forms and sub-species; but as they are distinguished from each other by a greater amount of difference than that between the local forms and sub-species, they are almost universally ranked by naturalists as true species.
Nevertheless, no certain criterion can possibly be given by which variable forms, local forms, sub-species, and representative species can be recognised.
Many years ago, when comparing, and seeing others compare, the birds from the closely neighbouring islands of the Galapagos Archipelago, one with another, and with those from the American mainland, I was much struck how entirely vague and arbitrary is the distinction between species and varieties.
On the islets of the little Madeira group there are many insects which are characterised as varieties in Mr. Wollaston's admirable work, but which would certainly be ranked as distinct species by many entomologists.
Even Ireland has a few animals, now generally regarded as varieties, but which have been ranked as species by some zoologists. Several experienced ornithologists consider our British red grouse as only a strongly-marked race of a Norwegian species, whereas the greater number rank it as an undoubted species peculiar to Great Britain.
A wide distance between the homes of two doubtful forms leads many naturalists to rank them as distinct species; but what distance, it has been well asked, will suffice; if that between America and Europe is ample, will that between Europe and the Azores, or Madeira, or the Canaries, or between the several islets of these small archipelagos, be sufficient?
Mr. B. D. Walsh, a distinguished entomologist of the United States, has described what he calls phytophagic varieties and phytophagic species.
Most vegetable-feeding insects live on one kind of plant or on one group of plants; some feed indiscriminately on many kinds, but do not in consequence vary.
In several cases, however, insects found living on different plants, have been observed by Mr. Walsh to present in their larval or mature state, or in both states, slight, though constant differences in colour, size, or in the nature of their secretions.
In some instances the males alone, in other instances both males and females, have been observed thus to differ in a slight degree.
When the differences are rather more strongly marked, and when both sexes and all ages are affected, the forms are ranked by all entomologists as good species.
But no observer can determine for another, even if he can do so for himself, which of these phytophagic forms ought to be called species and which varieties.
Mr. Walsh ranks the forms which it may be supposed would freely intercross, as varieties; and those which appear to have lost this power, as species.
As the differences depend on the insects having long fed on distinct plants, it cannot be expected that intermediate links connecting the several forms should now be found.
The naturalist thus loses his best guide in determining whether to rank doubtful forms as varieties or species.
This likewise necessarily occurs with closely allied organisms, which inhabit distinct continents or islands.
When, on the other hand, an animal or plant ranges over the same continent, or inhabits many islands in the same archipelago, and presents different forms in the different areas, there is always a good chance that intermediate forms will be discovered which will link together the extreme states, and these are then degraded to the rank of varieties.
Some few naturalists maintain that animals never present varieties; but then these same naturalists rank the slightest difference as of specific value; and when the same identical form is met with in two distant countries, or in two geological formations, they believe that two distinct species are hidden under the same dress. The term species thus comes to be a mere useless abstraction, implying and assuming a separate act of creation.
It is certain that many forms, considered by highly-competent judges to be varieties, resemble species so completely in character, that they have been thus ranked by other highly-competent judges.
But to discuss whether they ought to be called species or varieties, before any definition of these terms has been generally accepted, is vainly to beat the air.
|02 - Variations Under Nature||02-03 - Doubtful Species||40||Many of the cases of strongly-marked varieties or doubtful species well deserve consideration; for several interesting lines of argument, from geographical distribution, analogical variation, hybridism, &c., have been brought to bear in the attempt to determine their rank; but space does not here permit me to discuss them.|