The Origin of Species – Day 93 of 119

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 alternations 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.

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