The Origin of Species – Day 81 of 119

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.

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