The Origin of Species – Day 96 of 119

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.

With respect to the absence of whole orders on oceanic islands, Bory St. Vincent long ago remarked that Batrachians (frogs, toads, newts) have never been found on any of the many islands with which the great oceans are studded. I have taken pains to verify this assertion, and I have found it strictly true. I have, however, been assured that a frog exists on the mountains of the great island of New Zealand; but I suspect that this exception (if the information be correct) may be explained through glacial agency. This general absence of frogs, toads, and newts on so many oceanic islands cannot be accounted for by their physical conditions; indeed it seems that islands are peculiarly well fitted for these animals; for frogs have been introduced into Madeira, the Azores, and Mauritius, and have multiplied so as to become a nuisance. But as these animals and their spawn are known to be immediately killed by sea-water, on my view we can see that there would be great difficulty in their transportal across the sea, and therefore why they do not exist on any oceanic island. But why, on the theory of creation, they should not have been created there, it would be very difficult to explain.

Mammals offer another and similar case. I have carefully searched the oldest voyages, but have not finished my search; as yet I have not found a single instance, free from doubt, of a terrestrial mammal (excluding domesticated animals kept by the natives) inhabiting an island situated above 300 miles from a continent or great continental island; and many islands situated at a much less distance are equally barren. The Falkland Islands, which are inhabited by a wolf-like fox, come nearest to an exception; but this group cannot be considered as oceanic, as it lies on a bank connected with the mainland; moreover, icebergs formerly brought boulders to its western shores, and they may have formerly transported foxes, as so frequently now happens in the arctic regions. Yet it cannot be said that small islands will not support small mammals, for they occur in many parts of the world on very small islands, if close to a continent; and hardly an island can be named on which our smaller quadrupeds have not become naturalised and greatly multiplied. It cannot be said, on the ordinary view of creation, that there has not been time for the creation of mammals; many volcanic islands are sufficiently ancient, as shown by the stupendous degradation which they have suffered and by their tertiary strata: there has also been time for the production of endemic species belonging to other classes; and on continents it is thought that mammals appear and disappear at a quicker rate than other and lower animals. Though terrestrial mammals do not occur on oceanic islands, aerial mammals do occur on almost every island. New Zealand possesses two bats found nowhere else in the world: Norfolk Island, the Viti Archipelago, the Bonin Islands, the Caroline and Marianne Archipelagoes, and Mauritius, all possess their peculiar bats. Why, it may be asked, has the supposed creative force produced bats and no other mammals on remote islands? On my view this question can easily be answered; for no terrestrial mammal can be transported across a wide space of sea, but bats can fly across. Bats have been seen wandering by day far over the Atlantic Ocean; and two North American species either regularly or occasionally visit Bermuda, at the distance of 600 miles from the mainland. I hear from Mr. Tomes, who has specially studied this family, that many of the same species have enormous ranges, and are found on continents and on far distant islands. Hence we have only to suppose that such wandering species have been modified through natural selection in their new homes in relation to their new position, and we can understand the presence of endemic bats on islands, with the absence of all terrestrial mammals.

Besides the absence of terrestrial mammals in relation to the remoteness of islands from continents, there is also a relation, to a certain extent independent of distance, between the depth of the sea separating an island from the neighbouring mainland, and the presence in both of the same mammiferous species or of allied species in a more or less modified condition. Mr. Windsor Earl has made some striking observations on this head in regard to the great Malay Archipelago, which is traversed near Celebes by a space of deep ocean; and this space separates two widely distinct mammalian faunas. On either side the islands are situated on moderately deep submarine banks, and they are inhabited by closely allied or identical quadrupeds. No doubt some few anomalies occur in this great archipelago, and there is much difficulty in forming a judgment in some cases owing to the probable naturalisation of certain mammals through man’s agency; but we shall soon have much light thrown on the natural history of this archipelago by the admirable zeal and researches of Mr. Wallace. I have not as yet had time to follow up this subject in all other quarters of the world; but as far as I have gone, the relation generally holds good. We see Britain separated by a shallow channel from Europe, and the mammals are the same on both sides; we meet with analogous facts on many islands separated by similar channels from Australia. The West Indian Islands stand on a deeply submerged bank, nearly 1000 fathoms in depth, and here we find American forms, but the species and even the genera are distinct. As the amount of modification in all cases depends to a certain degree on the lapse of time, and as during changes of level it is obvious that islands separated by shallow channels are more likely to have been continuously united within a recent period to the mainland than islands separated by deeper channels, we can understand the frequent relation between the depth of the sea and the degree of affinity of the mammalian inhabitants of islands with those of a neighbouring continent,–an inexplicable relation on the view of independent acts of creation.

All the foregoing remarks on the inhabitants of oceanic islands,–namely, the scarcity of kinds–the richness in endemic forms in particular classes or sections of classes,–the absence of whole groups, as of batrachians, and of terrestrial mammals notwithstanding the presence of aerial bats,–the singular proportions of certain orders of plants,–herbaceous forms having been developed into trees, etc.,–seem to me to accord better with the view of occasional means of transport having been largely efficient in the long course of time, than with the view of all our oceanic islands having been formerly connected by continuous land with the nearest continent; for on this latter view the migration would probably have been more complete; and if modification be admitted, all the forms of life would have been more equally modified, in accordance with the paramount importance of the relation of organism to organism.

I do not deny that there are many and grave difficulties in understanding how several of the inhabitants of the more remote islands, whether still retaining the same specific form or modified since their arrival, could have reached their present homes. But the probability of many islands having existed as halting-places, of which not a wreck now remains, must not be overlooked. I will here give a single instance of one of the cases of difficulty. Almost all oceanic islands, even the most isolated and smallest, are inhabited by land-shells, generally by endemic species, but sometimes by species found elsewhere. Dr. Aug. A. Gould has given several interesting cases in regard to the land-shells of the islands of the Pacific. Now it is notorious that land-shells are very easily killed by salt; their eggs, at least such as I have tried, sink in sea-water and are killed by it. Yet there must be, on my view, some unknown, but highly efficient means for their transportal. Would the just-hatched young occasionally crawl on and adhere to the feet of birds roosting on the ground, and thus get transported? It occurred to me that land-shells, when hybernating and having a membranous diaphragm over the mouth of the shell, might be floated in chinks of drifted timber across moderately wide arms of the sea. And I found that several species did in this state withstand uninjured an immersion in sea-water during seven days: one of these shells was the Helix pomatia, and after it had again hybernated I put it in sea-water for twenty days, and it perfectly recovered. As this species has a thick calcareous operculum, I removed it, and when it had formed a new membranous one, I immersed it for fourteen days in sea-water, and it recovered and crawled away: but more experiments are wanted on this head. The most striking and important fact for us in regard to the inhabitants of islands, is their affinity to those of the nearest mainland, without being actually the same species. Numerous instances could be given of this fact. I will give only one, that of the Galapagos Archipelago, situated under the equator, between 500 and 600 miles from the shores of South America. Here almost every product of the land and water bears the unmistakeable stamp of the American continent. There are twenty-six land birds, and twenty-five of these are ranked by Mr. Gould as distinct species, supposed to have been created here; yet the close affinity of most of these birds to American species in every character, in their habits, gestures, and tones of voice, was manifest. So it is with the other animals, and with nearly all the plants, as shown by Dr. Hooker in his admirable memoir on the Flora of this archipelago. The naturalist, looking at the inhabitants of these volcanic islands in the Pacific, distant several hundred miles from the continent, yet feels that he is standing on American land. Why should this be so? why should the species which are supposed to have been created in the Galapagos Archipelago, and nowhere else, bear so plain a stamp of affinity to those created in America? There is nothing in the conditions of life, in the geological nature of the islands, in their height or climate, or in the proportions in which the several classes are associated together, which resembles closely the conditions of the South American coast: in fact there is a considerable dissimilarity in all these respects. On the other hand, there is a considerable degree of resemblance in the volcanic nature of the soil, in climate, height, and size of the islands, between the Galapagos and Cape de Verde Archipelagos: but what an entire and absolute difference in their inhabitants! The inhabitants of the Cape de Verde Islands are related to those of Africa, like those of the Galapagos to America. I believe this grand fact can receive no sort of explanation on the ordinary view of independent creation; whereas on the view here maintained, it is obvious that the Galapagos Islands would be likely to receive colonists, whether by occasional means of transport or by formerly continuous land, from America; and the Cape de Verde Islands from Africa; and that such colonists would be liable to modification;–the principle of inheritance still betraying their original birthplace.

Many analogous facts could be given: indeed it is an almost universal rule that the endemic productions of islands are related to those of the nearest continent, or of other near islands. The exceptions are few, and most of them can be explained. Thus the plants of Kerguelen Land, though standing nearer to Africa than to America, are related, and that very closely, as we know from Dr. Hooker’s account, to those of America: but on the view that this island has been mainly stocked by seeds brought with earth and stones on icebergs, drifted by the prevailing currents, this anomaly disappears. New Zealand in its endemic plants is much more closely related to Australia, the nearest mainland, than to any other region: and this is what might have been expected; but it is also plainly related to South America, which, although the next nearest continent, is so enormously remote, that the fact becomes an anomaly. But this difficulty almost disappears on the view that both New Zealand, South America, and other southern lands were long ago partially stocked from a nearly intermediate though distant point, namely from the antarctic islands, when they were clothed with vegetation, before the commencement of the Glacial period. The affinity, which, though feeble, I am assured by Dr. Hooker is real, between the flora of the south-western corner of Australia and of the Cape of Good Hope, is a far more remarkable case, and is at present inexplicable: but this affinity is confined to the plants, and will, I do not doubt, be some day explained.

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