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11 - Geographical Distribution 11-04 - Centres of creation 10 On these views, it is obvious, that the several species of the same genus, though inhabiting the most distant quarters of the world, must originally have proceeded from the same source, as they have descended from the same progenitor.

In the case of those species, which have undergone during whole geological periods but little modification, there is not much difficulty in believing that they may have migrated from the same region; for during the vast geographical and climatal changes which will have supervened since ancient times, almost any amount of migration is possible.

But in many other cases, in which we have reason to believe that the species of a genus have been produced within comparatively recent times, there is great difficulty on this head.

It is also obvious that the individuals of the same species, though now inhabiting distant and isolated regions, must have proceeded from one spot, where their parents were first produced: for, as explained in the last chapter, it is incredible that individuals identically the same should ever have been produced through natural selection from parents specifically distinct.

We are thus brought to the question which has been largely discussed by naturalists, namely, whether species have been created at one or more points of the earth's surface.

Undoubtedly there are very many cases of extreme difficulty, in understanding how the same species could possibly have migrated from some one point to the several distant and isolated points, where now found.

Nevertheless the simplicity of the view that each species was first produced within a single region captivates the mind.

He who rejects it, rejects the vera causa of ordinary generation with subsequent migration, and calls in the agency of a miracle.

It is universally admitted, that in most cases the area inhabited by a species is continuous; and when a plant or animal inhabits two points so distant from each other, or with an interval of such a nature, that the space could not be easily passed over by migration, the fact is given as something remarkable and exceptional.

The capacity of migrating across the sea is more distinctly limited in terrestrial mammals, than perhaps in any other organic beings; and, accordingly, we find no inexplicable cases of the same mammal inhabiting distant points of the world.

No geologist will feel any difficulty in such cases as Great Britain having been formerly united to Europe, and consequently possessing the same quadrupeds.

But if the same species can be produced at two separate points, why do we not find a single mammal common to Europe and Australia or South America? The conditions of life are nearly the same, so that a multitude of European animals and plants have become naturalised in America and Australia; and some of the aboriginal plants are identically the same at these distant points of the northern and southern hemispheres?

The answer, as I believe, is, that mammals have not been able to migrate, whereas some plants, from their varied means of dispersal, have migrated across the vast and broken interspace.

The great and striking influence which barriers of every kind have had on distribution, is intelligible only on the view that the great majority of species have been produced on one side alone, and have not been able to migrate to the other side.

Some few families, many sub-families, very many genera, and a still greater number of sections of genera are confined to a single region; and it has been observed by several naturalists, that the most natural genera, or those genera in which the species are most closely related to each other, are generally local, or confined to one area.

What a strange anomaly it would be, if, when coming one step lower in the series, to the individuals of the same species, a directly opposite rule prevailed; and species were not local, but had been produced in two or more distinct areas!

Hence it seems to me, as it has to many other naturalists, that the view of each species having been produced in one area alone, and having subsequently migrated from that area as far as its powers of migration and subsistence under past and present conditions permitted, is the most probable.

Undoubtedly many cases occur, in which we cannot explain how the same species could have passed from one point to the other.

But the geographical and climatal changes, which have certainly occurred within recent geological times, must have interrupted or rendered discontinuous the formerly continuous range of many species.

So that we are reduced to consider whether the exceptions to continuity of range are so numerous and of so grave a nature, that we ought to give up the belief, rendered probable by general considerations, that each species has been produced within one area, and has migrated thence as far as it could.

It would be hopelessly tedious to discuss all the exceptional cases of the same species, now living at distant and separated points; nor do I for a moment pretend that any explanation could be offered of many such cases.

But after some preliminary remarks, I will discuss a few of the most striking classes of facts; namely, the existence of the same species on the summits of distant mountain-ranges, and at distant points in the arctic and antarctic regions; and secondly (in the following chapter), the wide distribution of freshwater productions; and thirdly, the occurrence of the same terrestrial species on islands and on the mainland, though separated by hundreds of miles of open sea.

If the existence of the same species at distant and isolated points of the earth's surface, can in many instances be explained on the view of each species having migrated from a single birthplace; then, considering our ignorance with respect to former climatal and geographical changes and various occasional means of transport, the belief that this has been the universal law, seems to me incomparably the safest.

In discussing this subject, we shall be enabled at the same time to consider a point equally important for us, namely, whether the several distinct species of a genus, which on my theory have all descended from a common progenitor, can have migrated (undergoing modification during some part of their migration) from the area inhabited by their progenitor.

If it can be shown to be almost invariably the case, that a region, of which most of its inhabitants are closely related to, or belong to the same genera with the species of a second region, has probably received at some former period immigrants from this other region, my theory will be strengthened; for we can clearly understand, on the principle of modification, why the inhabitants of a region should be related to those of another region, whence it has been stocked.

A volcanic island, for instance, upheaved and formed at the distance of a few hundreds of miles from a continent, would probably receive from it in the course of time a few colonists, and their descendants, though modified, would still be plainly related by inheritance to the inhabitants of the continent.

Cases of this nature are common, and are, as we shall hereafter more fully see, inexplicable on the theory of independent creation.

This view of the relation of species in one region to those in another, does not differ much (by substituting the word variety for species) from that lately advanced in an ingenious paper by Mr Wallace, in which he concludes, that `every species has come into existence coincident both in space and time with a pre-existing closely allied species.' And I now know from correspondence, that this coincidence he attributes to generation with modification.

Alfred Russel Wallace
Alfred Russel Wallace


The previous remarks on `single and multiple centres of creation' do not directly bear on another allied question, namely whether all the individuals of the same species have descended from a single pair, or single hermaphrodite, or whether, as some authors suppose, from many individuals simultaneously created.

With those organic beings which never intercross (if such exist), the species, on my theory, must have descended from a succession of improved varieties, which will never have blended with other individuals or varieties, but will have supplanted each other; so that, at each successive stage of modification and improvement, all the individuals of each variety will have descended from a single parent.

But in the majority of cases, namely, with all organisms which habitually unite for each birth, or which often intercross, I believe that during the slow process of modification the individuals of the species will have been kept nearly uniform by intercrossing; so that many individuals will have gone on simultaneously changing, and the whole amount of modification will not have been due, at each stage, to descent from a single parent.

To illustrate what I mean: our English racehorses differ slightly from the horses of every other breed; but they do not owe their difference and superiority to descent from any single pair, but to continued care in selecting and training many individuals during many generations.

Race Horse
Race Horse


Before discussing the three classes of facts, which I have selected as presenting the greatest amount of difficulty on the theory of `single centres of creation,' I must say a few words on the means of dispersal.