11 - Geographical Distribution
11-03 - Affinity of the productions of the same continent
A third great fact, partly included in the foregoing statements, is the affinity of the productions of the same continent or sea, though the species themselves are distinct at different points and stations.
It is a law of the widest generality, and every continent offers innumerable instances.
Nevertheless the naturalist in travelling, for instance, from north to south never fails to be struck by the manner in which successive groups of beings, specifically distinct, yet clearly related, replace each other.
He hears from closely allied, yet distinct kinds of birds, notes nearly similar, and sees their nests similarly constructed, but not quite alike, with eggs coloured in nearly the same manner.
The plains near the Straits of Magellan are inhabited by one species of Rhea (American ostrich), and northward the plains of La Plata by another species of the same genus; and not by a true ostrich or emeu, like those found in Africa and Australia under the same latitude.
|Straits of Magellan|
On these same plains of La Plata, we see the agouti and bizcacha, animals having nearly the same habits as our hares and rabbits and belonging to the same order of Rodents, but they plainly display an American type of structure.
We ascend the lofty peaks of the Cordillera and we find an alpine species of bizcacha; we look to the waters, and we do not find the beaver or musk-rat, but the coypu and capybara, rodents of the American type.
Innumerable other instances could be given.
If we look to the islands off the American shore, however much they may differ in geological structure, the inhabitants, though they may be all peculiar species, are essentially American.
We may look back to past ages, as shown in the last chapter, and we find American types then prevalent on the American continent and in the American seas.
We see in these facts some deep organic bond, prevailing throughout space and time, over the same areas of land and water, and independent of their physical conditions.
The naturalist must feel little curiosity, who is not led to inquire what this bond is.
This bond, on my theory, is simply inheritance, that cause which alone, as far as we positively know, produces organisms quite like, or, as we see in the case of varieties nearly like each other.
The dissimilarity of the inhabitants of different regions may be attributed to modification through natural selection, and in a quite subordinate degree to the direct influence of different physical conditions.
The degree of dissimilarity will depend on the migration of the more dominant forms of life from one region into another having been effected with more or less ease, at periods more or less remote; on the nature and number of the former immigrants; -- and on their action and reaction, in their mutual struggles for life; the relation of organism to organism being, as I have already often remarked, the most important of all relations.
Thus the high importance of barriers comes into play by checking migration; as does time for the slow process of modification through natural selection.
Widely-ranging species, abounding in individuals, which have already triumphed over many competitors in their own widely-extended homes will have the best chance of seizing on new places, when they spread into new countries.
In their new homes they will be exposed to new conditions, and will frequently undergo further modification and improvement; and thus they will become still further victorious, and will produce groups of modified descendants.
On this principle of inheritance with modification, we can understand how it is that sections of genera, whole genera, and even families are confined to the same areas, as is so commonly and notoriously the case.
I believe, as was remarked in the last chapter, in no law of necessary development.
As the variability of each species is an independent property, and will be taken advantage of by natural selection, only so far as it profits the individual in its complex struggle for life, so the degree of modification in different species will be no uniform quantity.
If, for instance, a number of species, which stand in direct competition with each other, migrate in a body into a new and afterwards isolated country, they will be little liable to modification; for neither migration nor isolation in themselves can do anything.
These principles come into play only by bringing organisms into new relations with each other, and in a lesser degree with the surrounding physical conditions.
As we have seen in the last chapter that some forms have retained nearly the same character from an enormously remote geological period, so certain species have migrated over vast spaces, and have not become greatly modified.