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|12 - Geographical Distribution -- continued||12-20 - On the inhabitants of oceanic islands||10||
We now come to the last of the three classes of facts, which I have selected as presenting the greatest amount of difficulty, on the view that all the individuals both of the same and of allied species have descended from a single parent; and therefore have all proceeded from a common birthplace, notwithstanding that in the course of time they have come to inhabit distant points of the globe.
I have already stated that I cannot honestly admit Forbes's view on continental extensions, which, if legitimately followed out, would lead to the belief that within the recent period all existing islands have been nearly or quite joined to some continent.
This view would remove many difficulties, but it would not, I think, explain all the facts in regard to insular productions.
In the following remarks I shall not confine myself to the mere question of dispersal; but shall consider some other facts, which bear on the truth of the two theories of independent creation and of descent with modification.
The species of all kinds which inhabit oceanic islands are few in number compared with those on equal continental areas: Alph. de Candolle admits this for plants, and Wollaston for insects.
If we look to the large size and varied stations of New Zealand, extending over 780 miles of latitude, and compare its flowering plants, only 750 in number, with those on an equal area at the Cape of Good Hope or in Australia, we must, I think, admit that something quite independently of any difference in physical conditions has caused so great a difference in number.
Even the uniform county of Cambridge has 847 plants, and the little island of Anglesea 764, but a few ferns and a few introduced plants are included in these numbers, and the comparison in some other respects is not quite fair.
We have evidence that the barren island of Ascension aboriginally possessed under half-a-dozen flowering plants; yet many have become naturalised on it, as they have on New Zealand and on every other oceanic island which can be named.
In St. Helena there is reason to believe that the naturalised plants and animals have nearly or quite exterminated many native productions.
He who admits the doctrine of the creation of each separate species, will have to admit, that a sufficient number of the best adapted plants and animals have not been created on oceanic islands; for man has unintentionally stocked them from various sources far more fully and perfectly than has nature.
Although in oceanic islands the number of kinds of inhabitants is scanty, the proportion of endemic species (i.e. those found nowhere else in the world) is often extremely large.
If we compare, for instance, the number of the endemic land-shells in Madeira, or of the endemic birds in the Galapagos Archipelago, with the number found on any continent, and then compare the area of the islands with that of the continent, we shall see that this is true.
This fact might have been expected on my theory for, as already explained, species occasionally arriving after long intervals in a new and isolated district, and having to compete with new associates, will be eminently liable to modification, and will often produce groups of modified descendants.
But it by no means follows, that, because in an island nearly all the species of one class are peculiar, those of another class, or of another section of the same class, are peculiar; and this difference seems to depend on the species which do not become modified having immigrated with facility and in a body, so that their mutual relations have not been much disturbed.
Thus in the Galapagos Islands nearly every land-bird, but only two out of the eleven marine birds, are peculiar; and it is obvious that marine birds could arrive at these islands more easily than land-birds.
Bermuda, on the other hand, which lies at about the same distance from North America as the Galapagos Islands do from South America, and which has a very peculiar soil, does not possess one endemic land bird; and we know from Mr. J. M. Jones's admirable account of Bermuda, that very many North American birds, during their great annual migrations, visit either periodically or occasionally this island.
Madeira does not possess one peculiar bird, and many European and African birds are almost every year blown there, as I am informed by Mr. E. V. Harcourt.
So that these two islands of Bermuda and Madeira have been stocked by birds, which for long ages have struggled together in their former homes, and have become mutually adapted to each other; and when settled in their new homes, each kind will have been kept by the others to their proper places and habits, and will consequently have been little liable to modification.
Madeira, again, is inhabited by a wonderful number of peculiar land-shells, whereas not one species of sea-shell is confined to its shores: now, though we do not know how seashells are dispersed, yet we can see that their eggs or larvae, perhaps attached to seaweed or floating timber, or to the feet of wading-birds, might be transported far more easily than land-shells, across three or four hundred miles of open sea.
The different orders of insects in Madeira apparently present analogous facts.
Oceanic islands are sometimes deficient in certain classes, and their places are apparently occupied by the other inhabitants; in the Galapagos Islands reptiles, and in New Zealand gigantic wingless birds, take the place of mammals.
In the plants of the Galapagos Islands, Dr. Hooker has shown that the proportional numbers of the different orders are very different from what they are elsewhere.
Such cases are generally accounted for by the physical conditions of the islands; but this explanation seems to me not a little doubtful.
Facility of immigration, I believe, has been at least as important as the nature of the conditions.
Many remarkable little facts could be given with respect to the inhabitants of remote islands.
For instance, in certain islands not tenanted by mammals, some of the endemic plants have beautifully hooked seeds; yet few relations are more striking than the adaptation of hooked seeds for transportal by the wool and fur of quadrupeds.
This case presents no difficulty on my view, for a hooked seed might be transported to an island by some other means; and the plant then becoming slightly modified, but still retaining its hooked seeds, would form an endemic species, having as useless an appendage as any rudimentary organ, for instance, as the shrivelled wings under the soldered elytra of many insular beetles.
Again, islands often possess trees or bushes belonging to orders which elsewhere include only herbaceous species; now trees, as Alph. de Candolle has shown, generally have, whatever the cause may be, confined ranges.
Hence trees would be little likely to reach distant oceanic islands; and an herbaceous plant, though it would have no chance of successfully competing in stature with a fully developed tree, when established on an island and having to compete with herbaceous plants alone, might readily gain an advantage by growing taller and taller and overtopping the other plants.
If so, natural selection would often tend to add to the stature of herbaceous plants when growing on an island, to whatever order they belonged, and thus convert them first into bushes and ultimately into trees.