On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection
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With respect to the apparently sudden extermination of whole families or orders, as of Trilobites at the close of the palaeozoic period and of Ammonites at the close of the secondary period, we must remember what has been already said on the probable wide intervals of time between our consecutive formations; and in these intervals there may have been much slow extermination. Moreover, when by sudden immigration or by unusually rapid development, many species of a new group have taken possession of a new area, they will have exterminated in a correspondingly rapid manner many of the old inhabitants; and the forms which thus yield their places will commonly be allied, for they will partake of some inferiority in common.

Thus, as it seems to me, the manner in which single species and whole groups of species become extinct, accords well with the theory of natural selection. We need not marvel at extinction; if we must marvel, let it be at our presumption in imagining for a moment that we understand the many complex contingencies, on which the existence of each species depends. If we forget for an instant, that each species tends to increase inordinately, and that some check is always in action, yet seldom perceived by us, the whole economy of nature will be utterly obscured. Whenever we can precisely say why this species is more abundant in individuals than that; why this species and not another can be naturalised in a given country; then, and not till then, we may justly feel surprise why we cannot account for the extinction of this particular species or group of species.

On the Forms of Life changing almost simultaneously throughout the World. - - Scarcely any palaeontological discovery is more striking than the fact, that the forms of life change almost simultaneously throughout the world. Thus our European Chalk formation can be recognised in many distant parts of the world, under the most different climates, where not a fragment of the mineral chalk itself can be found; namely, in North America, in equatorial South America, in Tierra del Fuego, at the Cape of Good Hope, and in the peninsula of India. For at these distant points, the organic remains in certain beds present an unmistakeable degree of resemblance to those of the Chalk. It is not that the same species are met with; for in some cases not one species is identically the same, but they belong to the same families, genera, and sections of genera, and sometimes are similarly characterised in such trifling points as mere superficial sculpture. Moreover other forms, which are not found in the Chalk of Europe, but which occur in the formations either above or below, are similarly absent at these distant points of the world. In the several successive palaeozoic formations of Russia, Western Europe and North America, a similar parallelism in the forms of life has been observed by several authors: so it is, according to Lyell, with the several European and North American tertiary deposits. Even if the few fossil species which are common to the Old and New Worlds be kept wholly out of view, the general parallelism in the successive forms of life, in the stages of the widely separated palaeozoic and tertiary periods, would still be manifest, and the several formations could be easily correlated.

These observations, however, relate to the marine inhabitants of distant parts of the world: we have not sufficient data to judge whether the productions of the land and of fresh water change at distant points in the same parallel manner. We may doubt whether they have thus changed: if the Megatherium, Mylodon, Macrauchenia, and Toxodon had been brought to Europe from La Plata, without any information in regard to their geological position, no one would have suspected that they had coexisted with still living sea-shells; but as these anomalous monsters coexisted with the Mastodon and Horse, it might at least have been inferred that they had lived during one of the latter tertiary stages.

When the marine forms of life are spoken of as having changed simultaneously throughout the world, it must not be supposed that this expression relates to the same thousandth or hundred-thousandth year, or even that it has a very strict geological sense; for if all the marine animals which live at the present day in Europe, and all those that lived in Europe during the pleistocene period (an enormously remote period as measured by years, including the whole glacial epoch), were to be compared with those now living in South America or in Australia, the most skilful naturalist would hardly be able to say whether the existing or the pleistocene inhabitants of Europe resembled most closely those of the southern hemisphere. So, again, several highly competent observers believe that the existing productions of the United States are more closely related to those which lived in Europe during certain later tertiary stages, than to those which now live here; and if this be so, it is evident that fossiliferous beds deposited at the present day on the shores of North America would hereafter be liable to be classed with somewhat older European beds. Nevertheless, looking to a remotely future epoch, there can, I think, be little doubt that all the more modern marine formations, namely, the upper pliocene, the pleistocene and strictly modern beds, of Europe, North and South America, and Australia, from containing fossil remains in some degree allied, and from not including those forms which are only found in the older underlying deposits, would be correctly ranked as simultaneous in a geological sense.

The fact of the forms of life changing simultaneously, in the above large sense, at distant parts of the world, has greatly struck those admirable observers, MM. de Verneuil and d'Archiac. After referring to the parallelism of the palaeozoic forms of life in various parts of Europe, they add, 'If struck by this strange sequence, we turn our attention to North America, and there discover a series of analogous phenomena, it will appear certain that all these modifications of species, their extinction, and the introduction of new ones, cannot be owing to mere changes in marine currents or other causes more or less local and temporary, but depend on general laws which govern the whole animal kingdom.' M. Barrande has made forcible remarks to precisely the same effect. It is, indeed, quite futile to look to changes of currents, climate, or other physical conditions, as the cause of these great mutations in the forms of life throughout the world, under the most different climates. We must, as Barrande has remarked, look to some special law. We shall see this more clearly when we treat of the present distribution of organic beings, and find how slight is the relation between the physical conditions of various countries, and the nature of their inhabitants.

This great fact of the parallel succession of the forms of life throughout the world, is explicable on the theory of natural selection. New species are formed by new varieties arising, which have some advantage over older forms; and those forms, which are already dominant, or have some advantage over the other forms in their own country, would naturally oftenest give rise to new varieties or incipient species; for these latter must be victorious in a still higher degree in order to be preserved and to survive. We have distinct evidence on this head, in the plants which are dominant, that is, which are commonest in their own homes, and are most widely diffused, having produced the greatest number of new varieties. It is also natural that the dominant, varying, and far-spreading species, which already have invaded to a certain extent the territories of other species, should be those which would have the best chance of spreading still further, and of giving rise in new countries to new varieties and species. The process of diffusion may often be very slow, being dependent on climatal and geographical changes, or on strange accidents, but in the long run the dominant forms will generally succeed in spreading. The diffusion would, it is probable, be slower with the terrestrial inhabitants of distinct continents than with the marine inhabitants of the continuous sea. We might therefore expect to find, as we apparently do find, a less strict degree of parallel succession in the productions of the land than of the sea.

Dominant species spreading from any region might encounter still more dominant species, and then their triumphant course, or even their existence, would cease. We know not at all precisely what are all the conditions most favourable for the multiplication of new and dominant species; but we can, I think, clearly see that a number of individuals, from giving a better chance of the appearance of favourable variations, and that severe competition with many already existing forms, would be highly favourable, as would be the power of spreading into new territories. A certain amount of isolation, recurring at long intervals of time, would probably be also favourable, as before explained. One quarter of the world may have been most favourable for the production of new and dominant species on the land, and another for those in the waters of the sea. If two great regions had been for a long period favourably circumstanced in an equal degree, whenever their inhabitants met, the battle would be prolonged and severe; and some from one birthplace and some from the other might be victorious. But in the course of time, the forms dominant in the highest degree, wherever produced, would tend everywhere to prevail. As they prevailed, they would cause the extinction of other and inferior forms; and as these inferior forms would be allied in groups by inheritance, whole groups would tend slowly to disappear; though here and there a single member might long be enabled to survive.

Thus, as it seems to me, the parallel, and, taken in a large sense, simultaneous, succession of the same forms of life throughout the world, accords well with the principle of new species having been formed by dominant species spreading widely and varying; the new species thus produced being themselves dominant owing to inheritance, and to having already had some advantage over their parents or over other species; these again spreading, varying, and producing new species. The forms which are beaten and which yield their places to the new and victorious forms, will generally be allied in groups, from inheriting some inferiority in common; and therefore as new and improved groups spread throughout the world, old groups will disappear from the world; and the succession of forms in both ways will everywhere tend to correspond.

There is one other remark connected with this subject worth making. I have given my reasons for believing that all our greater fossiliferous formations were deposited during periods of subsidence; and that blank intervals of vast duration occurred during the periods when the bed of the sea was either stationary or rising, and likewise when sediment was not thrown down quickly enough to embed and preserve organic remains. During these long and blank intervals I suppose that the inhabitants of each region underwent a considerable amount of modification and extinction, and that there was much migration from other parts of the world. As we have reason to believe that large areas are affected by the same movement, it is probable that strictly contemporaneous formations have often been accumulated over very wide spaces in the same quarter of the world; but we are far from having any right to conclude that this has invariably been the case, and that large areas have invariably been affected by the same movements. When two formations have been deposited in two regions during nearly, but not exactly the same period, we should find in both, from the causes explained in the foregoing paragraphs, the same general succession in the forms of life; but the species would not exactly correspond; for there will have been a little more time in the one region than in the other for modification, extinction, and immigration.

I suspect that cases of this nature have occurred in Europe. Mr. Prestwich, in his admirable Memoirs on the eocene deposits of England and France, is able to draw a close general parallelism between the successive stages in the two countries; but when he compares certain stages in England with those in France, although he finds in both a curious accordance in the numbers of the species belonging to the same genera, yet the species themselves differ in a manner very difficult to account for, considering the proximity of the two areas,--unless, indeed, it be assumed that an isthmus separated two seas inhabited by distinct, but contemporaneous, faunas. Lyell has made similar observations on some of the later tertiary formations. Barrande, also, shows that there is a striking general parallelism in the successive Silurian deposits of Bohemia and Scandinavia; nevertheless he finds a surprising amount of difference in the species. If the several formations in these regions have not been deposited during the same exact periods,--a formation in one region often corresponding with a blank interval in the other,--and if in both regions the species have gone on slowly changing during the accumulation of the several formations and during the long intervals of time between them; in this case, the several formations in the two regions could be arranged in the same order, in accordance with the general succession of the form of life, and the order would falsely appear to be strictly parallel; nevertheless the species would not all be the same in the apparently corresponding stages in the two regions.

On the Affinities of extinct Species to each other, and to living forms. -- Let us now look to the mutual affinities of extinct and living species. They all fall into one grand natural system; and this fact is at once explained on the principle of descent. The more ancient any form is, the more, as a general rule, it differs from living forms. But, as Buckland long ago remarked, all fossils can be classed either in still existing groups, or between them. That the extinct forms of life help to fill up the wide intervals between existing genera, families, and orders, cannot be disputed. For if we confine our attention either to the living or to the extinct alone, the series is far less perfect than if we combine both into one general system. With respect to the Vertebrata, whole pages could be filled with striking illustrations from our great palaeontologist, Owen, showing how extinct animals fall in between existing groups. Cuvier ranked the Ruminants and Pachyderms, as the two most distinct orders of mammals; but Owen has discovered so many fossil links, that he has had to alter the whole classification of these two orders; and has placed certain pachyderms in the same sub-order with ruminants: for example, he dissolves by fine gradations the apparently wide difference between the pig and the camel. In regard to the Invertebrata, Barrande, and a higher authority could not be named, asserts that he is every day taught that palaeozoic animals, though belonging to the same orders, families, or genera with those living at the present day, were not at this early epoch limited in such distinct groups as they now are.

Some writers have objected to any extinct species or group of species being considered as intermediate between living species or groups. If by this term it is meant that an extinct form is directly intermediate in all its characters between two living forms, the objection is probably valid. But I apprehend that in a perfectly natural classification many fossil species would have to stand between living species, and some extinct genera between living genera, even between genera belonging to distinct families. The most common case, especially with respect to very distinct groups, such as fish and reptiles, seems to be, that supposing them to be distinguished at the present day from each other by a dozen characters, the ancient members of the same two groups would be distinguished by a somewhat lesser number of characters, so that the two groups, though formerly quite distinct, at that period made some small approach to each other.

It is a common belief that the more ancient a form is, by so much the more it tends to connect by some of its characters groups now widely separated from each other. This remark no doubt must be restricted to those groups which have undergone much change in the course of geological ages; and it would be difficult to prove the truth of the proposition, for every now and then even a living animal, as the Lepidosiren, is discovered having affinities directed towards very distinct groups. Yet if we compare the older Reptiles and Batrachians, the older Fish, the older Cephalopods, and the eocene Mammals, with the more recent members of the same classes, we must admit that there is some truth in the remark.

Let us see how far these several facts and inferences accord with the theory of descent with modification. As the subject is somewhat complex, I must request the reader to turn to the diagram in the fourth chapter. We may suppose that the numbered letters represent genera, and the dotted lines diverging from them the species in each genus. The diagram is much too simple, too few genera and too few species being given, but this is unimportant for us. The horizontal lines may represent successive geological formations, and all the forms beneath the uppermost line may be considered as extinct. The three existing genera, a14, q14, p14, will form a small family; b14 and f14 a closely allied family or sub-family; and o14, e14, m14, a third family. These three families, together with the many extinct genera on the several lines of descent diverging from the parent-form A, will form an order; for all will have inherited something in common from their ancient and common progenitor. On the principle of the continued tendency to divergence of character, which was formerly illustrated by this diagram, the more recent any form is, the more it will generally differ from its ancient progenitor. Hence we can understand the rule that the most ancient fossils differ most from existing forms. We must not, however, assume that divergence of character is a necessary contingency; it depends solely on the descendants from a species being thus enabled to seize on many and different places in the economy of nature. Therefore it is quite possible, as we have seen in the case of some Silurian forms, that a species might go on being slightly modified in relation to its slightly altered conditions of life, and yet retain throughout a vast period the same general characteristics. This is represented in the diagram by the letter F14.

All the many forms, extinct and recent, descended from A, make, as before remarked, one order; and this order, from the continued effects of extinction and divergence of character, has become divided into several sub-families and families, some of which are supposed to have perished at different periods, and some to have endured to the present day.

By looking at the diagram we can see that if many of the extinct forms, supposed to be embedded in the successive formations, were discovered at several points low down in the series, the three existing families on the uppermost line would be rendered less distinct from each other. If, for instance, the genera a1, a5, a10, f8, m3, m6, m9 were disinterred, these three families would be so closely linked together that they probably would have to be united into one great family, in nearly the same manner as has occurred with ruminants and pachyderms. Yet he who objected to call the extinct genera, which thus linked the living genera of three families together, intermediate in character, would be justified, as they are intermediate, not directly, but only by a long and circuitous course through many widely different forms. If many extinct forms were to be discovered above one of the middle horizontal lines or geological formations--for instance, above No. VI.--but none from beneath this line, then only the two families on the left hand (namely, a14, &c., and b14, &c.) would have to be united into one family; and the two other families (namely, a14 to f14 now including five genera, and o14 to m14) would yet remain distinct. These two families, however, would be less distinct from each other than they were before the discovery of the fossils. If, for instance, we suppose the existing genera of the two families to differ from each other by a dozen characters, in this case the genera, at the early period marked VI., would differ by a lesser number of characters; for at this early stage of descent they have not diverged in character from the common progenitor of the order, nearly so much as they subsequently diverged. Thus it comes that ancient and extinct genera are often in some slight degree intermediate in character between their modified descendants, or between their collateral relations.

In nature the case will be far more complicated than is represented in the diagram; for the groups will have been more numerous, they will have endured for extremely unequal lengths of time, and will have been modified in various degrees. As we possess only the last volume of the geological record, and that in a very broken condition, we have no right to expect, except in very rare cases, to fill up wide intervals in the natural system, and thus unite distinct families or orders. All that we have a right to expect, is that those groups, which have within known geological periods undergone much modification, should in the older formations make some slight approach to each other; so that the older members should differ less from each other in some of their characters than do the existing members of the same groups; and this by the concurrent evidence of our best palaeontologists seems frequently to be the case.

Thus, on the theory of descent with modification, the main facts with respect to the mutual affinities of the extinct forms of life to each other and to living forms, seem to me explained in a satisfactory manner. And they are wholly inexplicable on any other view.

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