The Origin of Species – Day 92 of 119

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 south-eastern 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 deg-37 deg, and on the shores of the Pacific, where the climate is now so different, as far south as lat. 46 deg; 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 deg 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 north as Japan.

On the southern mountains of Australia, Dr. F. Muller 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, Professor 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, etc., 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.

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