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|11 - Geographical Distribution||11-06 - Dispersal during the Glacial period co-extensive with the world||10||
The identity of many plants and animals, on mountain-summits, separated from each other by hundreds of miles of lowlands, where the Alpine species could not possibly exist, is one of the most striking cases known of the same species living at distant points, without the apparent possibility of their having migrated from one to the other.
It is indeed a remarkable fact to see so many of the same plants living on the snowy regions of the Alps or Pyrenees, and in the extreme northern parts of Europe; but it is far more remarkable, that the plants on the White Mountains, in the United States of America, are all the same with those of Labrador, and nearly all the same, as we hear from Asa Gray, with those on the loftiest mountains of Europe.
Even as long ago as 1747, such facts led Gmelin to conclude that the same species must have been independently created at several distinct points; and we might have remained in this same belief, had not Agassiz and others called vivid attention to the Glacial period, which, as we shall immediately see, affords a simple explanation of these facts.
We have evidence of almost every conceivable kind, organic and inorganic, that within a very recent geological period, central Europe and North America suffered under an Arctic climate.
The ruins of a house burnt by fire do not tell their tale more plainly, than do the mountains of Scotland and Wales, with their scored flanks, polished surfaces, and perched boulders, of the icy streams with which their valleys were lately filled.
So greatly has the climate of Europe changed, that in Northern Italy, gigantic moraines, left by old glaciers, are now clothed by the vine and maize.
Throughout a large part of the United States, erratic boulders, and rocks scored by drifted icebergs and coast-ice, plainly reveal a former cold period.
The former influence of the glacial climate on the distribution of the inhabitants of Europe, as explained with remarkable clearness by Edward Forbes, is substantially as follows.
But we shall follow the changes more readily, by supposing a new glacial period to come slowly on, and then pass away, as formerly occurred.
As the cold came on, and as each more southern zone became fitted for arctic beings and ill-fitted for their former more temperate inhabitants, the latter would be supplanted and arctic productions would take their places.
The inhabitants of the more temperate regions would at the same time travel southward, unless they were stopped by barriers, in which case they would perish.
The mountains would become covered with snow and ice, and their former Alpine inhabitants would descend to the plains.
By the time that the cold had reached its maximum, we should have a uniform arctic fauna and flora, covering the central parts of Europe, as far south as the Alps and Pyrenees, and even stretching into Spain.
The now temperate regions of the United States would likewise be covered by arctic plants and animals, and these would be nearly the same with those of Europe; for the present circumpolar inhabitants, which we suppose to have everywhere travelled southward, are remarkably uniform round the world.
We may suppose that the Glacial period came on a little earlier or later in North America than in Europe, so will the southern migration there have been a little earlier or later; but this will make no difference in the final result.
As the warmth returned, the arctic forms would retreat northward, closely followed up in their retreat by the productions of the more temperate regions.
And as the snow melted from the bases of the mountains, the arctic forms would seize on the cleared and thawed ground, always ascending higher and higher, as the warmth increased, whilst their brethren were pursuing their northern journey.
Hence, when the warmth had fully returned, the same arctic species, which had lately lived in a body together on the lowlands of the Old and New Worlds, would be left isolated on distant mountain-summits (having been exterminated on all lesser heights) and in the arctic regions of both hemispheres.
Thus we can understand the identity of many plants at points so immensely remote as on the mountains of the United States and of Europe.
We can thus also understand the fact that the Alpine plants of each mountain-range are more especially related to the arctic forms living due north or nearly due north of them: for the migration as the cold came on, and the re-migration on the returning warmth, will generally have been due south and north.
The Alpine plants, for example, of Scotland, as remarked by Mr H. C. Watson, and those of the Pyrenees, as remarked by Ramond, are more especially allied to the plants of northern Scandinavia; those of the United States to Labrador; those of the mountains of Siberia to the arctic regions of that country.
These views, grounded as they are on the perfectly well-ascertained occurrence of a former Glacial period, seem to me to explain in so satisfactory a manner the present distribution of the Alpine and Arctic productions of Europe and America, that when in other regions we find the same species on distant mountain-summits, we may almost conclude without other evidence, that a colder climate permitted their former migration across the low intervening tracts, since become too warm for their existence.
If the climate, since the Glacial period, has ever been in any degree warmer than at present (as some geologists in the United States believe to have been the case, chiefly from the distribution of the fossil Gnathodon), then the arctic and temperate productions will at a very late period have marched a little further north, and subsequently have retreated to their present homes; but I have met with no satisfactory evidence with respect to this intercalated slightly warmer period, since the Glacial period.
The arctic forms, during their long southern migration and re-migration northward, will have been exposed to nearly the same climate, and, as is especially to be noticed, they will have kept in a body together; consequently their mutual relations will not have been much disturbed, and, in accordance with the principles inculcated in this volume, they will not have been liable to much modification.
But with our Alpine productions, left isolated from the moment of the returning warmth, first at the bases and ultimately on the summits of the mountains, the case will have been somewhat different; for it is not likely that all the same arctic species will have been left on mountain ranges distant from each other, and have survived there ever since; they will, also, in all probability have become mingled with ancient Alpine species, which must have existed on the mountains before the commencement of the Glacial epoch, and which during its coldest period will have been temporarily driven down to the plains; they will, also, have been exposed to somewhat different climatal influences.
Their mutual relations will thus have been in some degree disturbed; consequently they will have been liable to modification; and this we find has been the case; for if we compare the present Alpine plants and animals of the several great European mountain-ranges, though very many of the species are identically the same, some present varieties, some are ranked as doubtful forms, and some few are distinct yet closely allied or representative species.
In illustrating what, as I believe, actually took place during the Glacial period, I assumed that at its commencement the arctic productions were as uniform round the polar regions as they are at the present day.
But the foregoing remarks on distribution apply not only to strictly arctic forms, but also to many sub-arctic and to some few northern temperate forms, for some of these are the same on the lower mountains and on the plains of North America and Europe; and it may be reasonably asked how I account for the necessary degree of uniformity of the sub-arctic and northern temperate forms round the world, at the commencement of the Glacial period.
At the present day, the sub-arctic and northern temperate productions of the Old and New Worlds are separated from each other by the Atlantic Ocean and by the extreme northern part of the Pacific.
During the Glacial period, when the inhabitants of the Old and New Worlds lived further southwards than at present, they must have been still more completely separated by wider spaces of ocean.
I believe the above difficulty may be surmounted by looking to still earlier changes of climate of an opposite nature.
We have good reason to believe that during the newer Pliocene period, before the Glacial epoch, and whilst the majority of the inhabitants of the world were specifically the same as now, the climate was warmer than at the present day.
Hence we may suppose that the organisms now living under the climate of latitude 60°, during the Pliocene period lived further north under the Polar Circle, in latitude 66°-67°; and that the strictly arctic productions then lived on the broken land still nearer to the pole.
Now if we look at a globe, we shall see that under the Polar Circle there is almost continuous land from western Europe, through Siberia, to eastern America.
And to this continuity of the circumpolar land, and to the consequent freedom for intermigration under a more favourable climate, I attribute the necessary amount of uniformity in the sub-arctic and northern temperate productions of the Old and New Worlds, at a period anterior to the Glacial epoch.
Believing, from reasons before alluded to, that our continents have long remained in nearly the same relative position, though subjected to large, but partial oscillations of level, I am strongly inclined to extend the above view, and to infer that during some earlier and still warmer period, such as the older Pliocene period, a large number of the same plants and animals inhabited the almost continuous circumpolar land; and that these plants and animals, both in the Old and New Worlds, began slowly to migrate southwards as the climate became less warm, long before the commencement of the Glacial period.
We now see, as I believe, their descendants, mostly in a modified condition, in the central parts of Europe and the United States.
On this view we can understand the relationship, with very little identity, between the productions of North America and Europe, a relationship which is most remarkable, considering the distance of the two areas, and their separation by the Atlantic Ocean.
We can further understand the singular fact remarked on by several observers, that the productions of Europe and America during the later tertiary stages were more closely related to each other than they are at the present time; for during these warmer periods the northern parts of the Old and New Worlds will have been almost continuously united by land, serving as a bridge, since rendered impassable by cold, for the inter-migration of their inhabitants.
During the slowly decreasing warmth of the Pliocene period, as soon as the species in common, which inhabited the New and Old Worlds, migrated south of the Polar Circle, they must have been completely cut off from each other.
This separation, as far as the more temperate productions are concerned, took place long ages ago.
And as the plants and animals migrated southward, they will have become mingled in the one great region with the native American productions, and have had to compete with them; and in the other great region, with those of the Old World.
Consequently we have here everything favourable for much modification, for far more modification than with the Alpine productions, left isolated, within a much more recent period, on the several mountain-ranges and on the arctic lands of the two Worlds.
Hence it has come, that when we compare the now living productions of the temperate regions of the New and Old Worlds, we find very few identical species (though Asa Gray has lately shown that more plants are identical than was formerly supposed), but we find in every great class many forms, which some naturalists rank as geographical races, and others as distinct species; and a host of closely allied or representative forms which are ranked by all naturalists as specifically distinct.
As on the land, so in the waters of the sea, a slow southern migration of a marine fauna, which during the Pliocene or even a somewhat earlier period, was nearly uniform along the continuous shores of the Polar Circle, will account, on the theory of modification, for many closely allied forms now living in areas completely sundered.
Thus, I think, we can understand the presence of many existing and tertiary representative forms on the eastern and western shores of temperate North America; and the still more striking case of many closely allied crustaceans (as described in Dana's admirable work), of some fish and other marine animals, in the Mediterranean and in the seas of Japan, areas now separated by a continent and by nearly a hemisphere of equatorial ocean.
These cases of relationship, without identity, of the inhabitants of seas now disjoined, and likewise of the past and present inhabitants of the temperate lands of North America and Europe, are inexplicable on the theory of creation.
We cannot say that they have been created alike, in correspondence with the nearly similar physical conditions of the areas; for if we compare, for instance, certain parts of South America with the southern continents of the Old World, we see countries closely corresponding in all their physical conditions, but with their inhabitants utterly dissimilar.
But we must return to our more immediate subject, the Glacial period.
I am convinced that Forbes's view may be largely extended.
In Europe we have the plainest evidence of the cold period, from the western shores of Britain to the Oural range, and southward to the Pyrenees.
We may infer, from the frozen mammals and nature of the mountain vegetation, that Siberia was similarly affected.
Along the Himalaya, at points 900 miles apart, glaciers have left the marks of their former low descent; and in Sikkim, Dr Hooker saw maize growing on gigantic ancient moraines.
South of the equator, we have some direct evidence of former glacial action in New Zealand; and the same plants, found on widely separated mountains in this island, tell the same story.
If one account which has been published can be trusted, we have direct evidence of glacial action in the southeastern corner of Australia.
Looking to America; in the northern half, ice-borne fragments of rock have been observed on the eastern side as far south as lat. 36°-37°, and on the shores of the Pacific, where the climate is now so different, as far south as lat. 46°; erratic boulders have, also, been noticed on the Rocky Mountains.
In the Cordillera of Equatorial South America, glaciers once extended far below their present level.
In central Chile I was astonished at the structure of a vast mound of detritus, about 800 feet in height, crossing a valley of the Andes; and this I now feel convinced was a gigantic moraine, left far below any existing glacier.
Further south on both sides of the continent, from lat. 41° to the southernmost extremity, we have the clearest evidence of former glacial action, in huge boulders transported far from their parent source.
We do not know that the Glacial epoch was strictly simultaneous at these several far distant points on opposite sides of the world.
But we have good evidence in almost every case, that the epoch was included within the latest geological period.
We have, also, excellent evidence, that it endured for an enormous time, as measured by years, at each point.
The cold may have come on, or have ceased, earlier at one point of the globe than at another, but seeing that it endured for long at each, and that it was contemporaneous in a geological sense, it seems to me probable that it was, during a part at least of the period, actually simultaneous throughout the world.
Without some distinct evidence to the contrary, we may at least admit as probable that the glacial action was simultaneous on the eastern and western sides of North America, in the Cordillera under the equator and under the warmer temperate zones, and on both sides of the southern extremity of the continent.
If this be admitted, it is difficult to avoid believing that the temperature of the whole world was at this period simultaneously cooler.
But it would suffice for my purpose, if the temperature was at the same time lower along certain broad belts of longitude.
On this view of the whole world, or at least of broad longitudinal belts, having been simultaneously colder from pole to pole, much light can be thrown on the present distribution of identical and allied species.
In America, Dr Hooker has shown that between forty and fifty of the flowering plants of Tierra del Fuego, forming no inconsiderable part of its scanty flora, are common to Europe, enormously remote as these two points are; and there are many closely allied species.
On the lofty mountains of equatorial America a host of peculiar species belonging to European genera occur.
On the highest mountains of Brazil, some few European genera were found by Gardner, which do not exist in the wide intervening hot countries.
So on the Silla of Caraccas the illustrious Humboldt long ago found species belonging to genera characteristic of the Cordillera.
On the mountains of Abyssinia, several European forms and some few representatives of the peculiar flora of the Cape of Good Hope occur.
At the Cape of Good Hope a very few European species, believed not to have been introduced by man, and on the mountains, some few representative European forms are found, which have not been discovered in the intertropical parts of Africa.
On the Himalaya, and on the isolated mountain-ranges of the peninsula of India, on the heights of Ceylon, and on the volcanic cones of Java, many plants occur, either identically the same or representing each other, and at the same time representing plants of Europe, not found in the intervening hot lowlands.
A list of the genera collected on the loftier peaks of Java raises a picture of a collection made on a hill in Europe! Still more striking is the fact that southern Australian forms are clearly represented by plants growing on the summits of the mountains of Borneo.
Some of these Australian forms, as I hear from Dr. Hooker, extend along the heights of the peninsula of Malacca, and are thinly scattered, on the one hand over India and on the other as far as Japan.
On the southern mountains of Australia, Dr. F. Mueller has discovered several European species; other species, not introduced by man, occur on the lowlands; and a long list can be given, as I am informed by Dr. Hooker, of European genera, found in Australia, but not in the intermediate torrid regions.
In the admirable `Introduction to the Flora of New Zealand,' by Dr. Hooker, analogous and striking facts are given in regard to the plants of that large island.
Hence we see that throughout the world, the plants growing on the more lofty mountains, and on the temperate lowlands of the northern and southern hemispheres, are sometimes identically the same; but they are much oftener specifically distinct, though related to each other in a most remarkable manner.
This brief abstract applies to plants alone: some strictly analogous facts could be given on the distribution of terrestrial animals.
In marine productions, similar cases occur; as an example, I may quote a remark by the highest authority, Prof. Dana, that `it is certainly a wonderful fact that New Zealand should have a closer resemblance in its crustacea to Great Britain, its antipode, than to any other part of the world.' Sir J. Richardson, also, speaks of the reappearance on the shores of New Zealand, Tasmania, &c., of northern forms of fish.
Dr Hooker informs me that twenty-five species of Algae are common to New Zealand and to Europe, but have not been found in the intermediate tropical seas.
It should be observed that the northern species and forms found in the southern parts of the southern hemisphere, and on the mountain-ranges of the intertropical regions, are not arctic, but belong to the northern temperate zones.
As Mr. H. C. Watson has recently remarked, `In receding from polar towards equatorial latitudes, the Alpine or mountain floras really become less and less arctic.' Many of the forms living on the mountains of the warmer regions of the earth and in the southern hemisphere are of doubtful value, being ranked by some naturalists as specifically distinct, by others as varieties; but some are certainly identical, and many, though closely related to northern forms, must be ranked as distinct species.
Now let us see what light can be thrown on the foregoing facts, on the belief, supported as it is by a large body of geological evidence, that the whole world, or a large part of it, was during the Glacial period simultaneously much colder than at present.
The Glacial period, as measured by years, must have been very long; and when we remember over what vast spaces some naturalised plants and animals have spread within a few centuries, this period will have been ample for any amount of migration.
As the cold came slowly on, all the tropical plants and other productions will have retreated from both sides towards the equator, followed in the rear by the temperate productions, and these by the arctic; but with the latter we are not now concerned.
The tropical plants probably suffered much extinction; how much no one can say; perhaps formerly the tropics supported as many species as we see at the present day crowded together at the Cape of Good Hope, and in parts of temperate Australia.
As we know that many tropical plants and animals can withstand a considerable amount of cold, many might have escaped extermination during a moderate fall of temperature, more especially by escaping into the warmest spots.
But the great fact to bear in mind is, that all tropical productions will have suffered to a certain extent.
On the other hand, the temperate productions, after migrating nearer to the equator, though they will have been placed under somewhat new conditions, will have suffered less.
And it is certain that many temperate plants, if protected from the inroads of competitors, can withstand a much warmer climate than their own.
Hence, it seems to me possible, bearing in mind that the tropical productions were in a suffering state and could not have presented a firm front against intruders, that a certain number of the more vigorous and dominant temperate forms might have penetrated the native ranks and have reached or even crossed the equator.
The invasion would, of course, have been greatly favoured by high land, and perhaps by a dry climate; for Dr. Falconer informs me that it is the damp with the heat of the tropics which is so destructive to perennial plants from a temperate climate.
On the other hand, the most humid and hottest districts will have afforded an asylum to the tropical natives.
The mountain-ranges north-west of the Himalaya, and the long line of the Cordillera, seem to have afforded two great lines of invasion: and it is a striking fact, lately communicated to me by Dr. Hooker, that all the flowering plants, about forty-six in number, common to Tierra del Fuego and to Europe still exist in North America, which must have lain on the line of march.
But I do not doubt that some temperate productions entered and crossed even the lowlands of the tropics at the period when the cold was most intense, when arctic forms had migrated some twenty-five degrees of latitude from their native country and covered the land at the foot of the Pyrenees.
At this period of extreme cold, I believe that the climate under the equator at the level of the sea was about the same with that now felt there at the height of six or seven thousand feet.
During this the coldest period, I suppose that large spaces of the tropical lowlands were clothed with a mingled tropical and temperate vegetation, like that now growing with strange luxuriance at the base of the Himalaya, as graphically described by Hooker.
Thus, as I believe, a considerable number of plants, a few terrestrial animals, and some marine productions, migrated during the Glacial period from the northern and southern temperate zones into the intertropical regions, and some even crossed the equator.
As the warmth returned, these temperate forms would naturally ascend the higher mountains, being exterminated on the lowlands; those which had not reached the equator, would re-migrate northward or southward towards their former homes; but the forms, chiefly northern, which had crossed the equator, would travel still further from their homes into the more temperate latitudes of the opposite hemisphere.
Although we have reason to believe from geological evidence that the whole body of arctic shells underwent scarcely any modification during their long southern migration and re-migration northward, the case may have been wholly different with those intruding forms which settled themselves on the intertropical mountains, and in the southern hemisphere.
These being surrounded by strangers will have had to compete with many new forms of life; and it is probable that selected modifications in their structure, habits, and constitutions will have profited them.
Thus many of these wanderers, though still plainly related by inheritance to their brethren of the northern or southern hemispheres, now exist in their new homes as well-marked varieties or as distinct species.
It is a remarkable fact, strongly insisted on by Hooker in regard to America, and by Alph. de Candolle in regard to Australia, that many more identical plants and allied forms have apparently migrated from the north to the south, than in a reversed direction.
We see, however, a few southern vegetable forms on the mountains of Borneo and Abyssinia.
I suspect that this preponderant migration from north to south is due to the greater extent of land in the north, and to the northern forms having existed in their own homes in greater numbers, and having consequently been advanced through natural selection and competition to a higher stage of perfection or dominating power, than the southern forms.
And thus, when they became commingled during the Glacial period, the northern forms were enabled to beat the less powerful southern forms.
Just in the same manner as we see at the present day, that very many European productions cover the ground in La Plata, and in a lesser degree in Australia, and have to a certain extent beaten the natives; whereas extremely few southern forms have become naturalised in any part of Europe, though hides, wool, and other objects likely to carry seeds have been largely imported into Europe during the last two or three centuries from La Plata, and during the last thirty or forty years from Australia.
Something of the same kind must have occurred on the intertropical mountains: no doubt before the Glacial period they were stocked with endemic Alpine forms; but these have almost everywhere largely yielded to the more dominant forms, generated in the larger areas and more efficient workshops of the north.
In many islands the native productions are nearly equalled or even outnumbered by the naturalised; and if the natives have not been actually exterminated, their numbers have been greatly reduced, and this is the first stage towards extinction.
A mountain is an island on the land; and the intertropical mountains before the Glacial period must have been completely isolated; and I believe that the productions of these islands on the land yielded to those produced within the larger areas of the north, just in the same way as the productions of real islands have everywhere lately yielded to continental forms, naturalised by man's agency.
I am far from supposing that all difficulties are removed on the view here given in regard to the range and affinities of the allied species which live in the northern and southern temperate zones and on the mountains of the intertropical regions.
Very many difficulties remain to be solved.
I do not pretend to indicate the exact lines and means of migration, or the reason why certain species and not others have migrated; why certain species have been modified and have given rise to new groups of forms, and others have remained unaltered.
We cannot hope to explain such facts, until we can say why one species and not another becomes naturalised by man's agency in a foreign land; why one ranges twice or thrice as far, and is twice or thrice as common, as another species within their own homes.
I have said that many difficulties remain to be solved: some of the most remarkable are stated with admirable clearness by Dr. Hooker in his botanical works on the antarctic regions.
These cannot be here discussed.
I will only say that as far as regards the occurrence of identical species at points so enormously remote as Kerguelen Land, New Zealand, and Fuegia, I believe that towards the close of the Glacial period, icebergs, as suggested by Lyell, have been largely concerned in their dispersal.
But the existence of several quite distinct species, belonging to genera exclusively confined to the south, at these and other distant points of the southern hemisphere, is, on my theory of descent with modification, a far more remarkable case of difficulty.
For some of these species are so distinct, that we cannot suppose that there has been time since the commencement of the Glacial period for their migration, and for their subsequent modification to the necessary degree.
The facts seem to me to indicate that peculiar and very distinct species have migrated in radiating lines from some common centre; and I am inclined to look in the southern, as in the northern hemisphere, to a former and warmer period, before the commencement of the Glacial period, when the antarctic lands, now covered with ice, supported a highly peculiar and isolated flora.
I suspect that before this flora was exterminated by the Glacial epoch, a few forms were widely dispersed to various points of the southern hemisphere by occasional means of transport, and by the aid, as halting-places, of existing and now sunken islands, and perhaps at the commencement of the Glacial period, by icebergs.
By these means, as I believe, the southern shores of America, Australia, New Zealand have become slightly tinted by the same peculiar forms of vegetable life.
Sir C. Lyell in a striking passage has speculated, in language almost identical with mine, on the effects of great alterations of climate on geographical distribution.
I believe that the world has recently felt one of his great cycles of change; and that on this view, combined with modification through natural selection, a multitude of facts in the present distribution both of the same and of allied forms of life can be explained.
The living waters may be said to have flowed during one short period from the north and from the south, and to have crossed at the equator; but to have flowed with greater force from the north so as to have freely inundated the south.
As the tide leaves its drift in horizontal lines, though rising higher on the shores where the tide rises highest, so have the living waters left their living drift on our mountain-summits, in a line gently rising from the arctic lowlands to a great height under the equator.
The various beings thus left stranded may be compared with savage races of man, driven up and surviving in the mountain-fastnesses of almost every land, which serve as a record, full of interest to us, of the former inhabitants of the surrounding lowlands.