Page images
PDF
EPUB

minute and just-hatched shells crawled on the feet, and clung to them so firmly that when taken out of the water they could not be jarred off, though at a somewhat more advanced age they would voluntarily drop off. These just—hatched molluscs, though aquatic in their nature, survived on the duck’s feet, in damp air, from twelve to twenty hOurs ; and in this length of time a duck or heron might fly as least six or seven hundred miles, and would be sure to alight on a pool or rivulet, if blown across sea to an oceanic island or to any other distant point. Sir Charles Lyell also informs me that a Dyticus has been caught with an Ancylus (a fresh-water shell like a limpet) firmly adhering to it; and a water-beetle of the same family, a Colymbetes, once flew on board the ‘ Beagle,’ when forty-five miles distant from the nearest land: how much farther it might have flown with a favouring gale no one can tell.

With respect to plants, it has long been known what enormous ranges many fresh-water, and even marshspecies, have, both over continents and to the most remote oceanic islands. This is strikingly shown, as remarked by Alph. de Candolle, in large groups of terrestrial plants, which have only a very few aquatic members; for these latter seem immediately to acquire, as if in consequence, a very wide range. I think favourable means of dispersal explain this fact. I have before mentioned that earth occasionally, though rarely, adheres in some quantity to the feet and beaks of birds. Wading birds, which frequent the muddy edges of ponds, if suddenly flushed, would be the most likely to have muddy feet. Birds of this order, I can show, are the greatest wanderers, and are occasionally found on the most remote and barren islands in the open ocean; they would not be likely to alight on the surface of the sea, so that the dirt would not be washed off their feet; when making land, they would be sure to fly to their natural fresh-water haunts. I do not believe that botanists are aware how charged the mud of ponds is with seeds: I have tried several little experiments, but will here give only the most striking case: I took in February three table-spoonfuls of mud from three different points, beneath water, on the edge of a little pond; this mud when dry weighed only 62 ounces ; I kept it covered up in my study for six months, pulling up and counting each plant as it grew; the plants were of many kinds, and were altogether 537 in number ; and yet the viscid mud

was all contained in a breakfast cup! Considering these facts, I think it would be an inexplicable circumstance if water-birds did not transport the seeds of fresh-water plants to vast distances, and if consequently the range of these plants was not very great. The same agency may have come into play with the eggs of some of the smaller fresh-water animals.

Other and unknown agencies probably have also played a part. I have stated that fresh—water fish eat some kinds of seeds, though they reject many other kinds after having swallowed them; even small fish swallow seeds of moderate size, as of the yellow water—lily and Potamogeton. Herons and other birds, century after century, have gone on daily devouring fish; they then take flight and go to other waters, or are blown across the sea; and we have seen that seeds retain their power of germination, when rejected in pellets or in excrement, many hours afterwards. When I saw the great size of the seeds of that fine waterlily, the Nelumbium, and remembered Alph. de Candolle’s remarks on this plant, I thought that its distribution must remain quite inexplicable; but Audubon states that he found the seeds of the great southern water-lily (probably, according__ to Dr. Hooker, the Nelumbium luteum) in a heron’s stomach; although I do not know the fact, yet analogy makes me believe that a heron flying to another pond and getting a hearty meal of fish, would probably reject from its stomach a pellet containing the seeds of the Nelumbium undigested; or the seeds might be dropped by the bird whilst feeding its young, in the same way as fish are known sometimes to be dropped.

In considering these seVeral means of distribution, it should be remembered that when a pond or stream is first formed, for instance, on a rising islet, it will be unoccupied; and a single seed or egg will have a good chance of succeeding. Although there will always be a struggle for life between the individuals of the species, however few, already occupying any pond, yet as the number of kinds is small, compared with those on the land, the competition will probably be less severe between aquatic than between terrestrial species ;‘consequently an intruder from the waters of a foreign country, would have a better chance of seizing on a place, than in the case of terrestrial colonists. We should also remember that some, perhaps many, fresh-water productions are low in the scale of nature, and that we have reason to believe that such low beings change or become modified less quickly than the high; and this will give longer time than the average for the migration of the same aquatic species. \Ve should not forget the probability of many species having formerly ranged as continuously as fresh-water productions ever can range, over immense areas, and having subsequently become extinct in intermediate regions. But the wide distribution of fresh-water plants and of the lower animals, whether retaining the same identical form or in some degree modified, I believe mainly depends on the wide dispersal of their seeds and eggs by animals, more especially by fresh-water birds, which have large powers of flight, and naturally travel from one to another and often distant piece of water, Nature, like a careful gardener, thus takes her seeds from a bed of a particular nature, and drops them in another equally well fitted for them.

On the Inhabitants of Oceanic Islands.—We now come to the last of the three classes of facts, which I have selected as presenting the greatest amount of difficulty, on the view that all the individuals both of the same and of allied species have descended from a single

. parent; and therefore have all proceeded from a common

birthplace, notwithstanding that in the course of time they have come to inhabit distant points of the globe. I have already stated that I cannot honestly admit Forbes’s view on continental extensions, which, if legitimately followed out, would lead to the belief that within the recent period all existing islands have been nearly or quite joined to. some continent. This view would remove many difficulties, but it would not explain all the facts in regard to insular productions. In the following remarks I shall not confine myself to the mere ‘ question of dispersal; but shall consider some other facts, which bear on the truth of the two theories of independent creation and of descent with modification.

The species of all kinds which inhabit oceanic islands are few in number compared with those on equal continental areas: Alph. de Candolle admits this for plants, and Wollaston for insects. If we look to the large size and varied stations of New Zealand, extending over 780 miles of latitude, and compare its flowering plants, only 750 in number, with those of an equal area at the Cape of Good Hope or in Australia, we must, I think, admit that something quite independently of any difference in physical conditions has caused‘so great a difference in number. Even the uniform county of Cambridge has 847 plants, and the little island of Anglesea 764, but a few ferns and a few introduced plants are included in these numbers, and the comparison in' some other respects is not quite fair. We have evidence that the barren island of Ascension aboriginally possessed under half-a-dozen flowering plants; yet many have become naturalised on it, as they have on New Zealand and on every other oceanic island which can be named. In St. Helena there is reason to believe that the naturalised plants and animals have nearly or quite exterminated many native productions. He who admits the doctrine of the creation of each separate species, will have to admit that a sufficient number of the best adapted plants and animals have not been created on oceanic islands; for man has unintentionally stocked them from various sources far more fully and perfectly than has nature. ‘ p ' Although in oceanic islands the number of kinds of inhabitants is scanty, the proportion of endemic species (Le. those found nowhere else in the world) is often extremely large. If we compare, forinstance, the number of the endemic land-shells in Madeira, or of the endemic birds in the Galapagos Archipelago, with the number found on any continent, and then compare the area of the islands with that of the continent, we shall see that this is true. This fact might have been expected on 'my theory, for, as already explained, species occasionally arriving after long intervals in a new and isolated district, and having to compete with new associates, will be eminently liable to modification, and will often produce groups of modified descendants. But it by no means follows that, because in an island nearly all the species of one class are peculiar, those of another class, or of another section of the; same class, are peculiar; and this difference seems to depend partly on the species which do not become modified having immigrated with facility and in a body, so that their mutual relations have not been much disturbed ; and partly on the frequent arrival of unmodified immigrants from the mother-country, and the consequent intercrossing with them. With respect to the effects of this intercrossing, it should be remembered that the offspring of such crosses would almost certainly gain in vigour; so that even an occasional cross would produce more effect than might at first be anticipated. To give a few examples: in the Galapagos Islands there are 261and-birds; of these, 21 (or perhaps 23) are peculiar, whereas of the 11 marine birds only 2 are peculiar; and it is obvious that marine birds could arrive at these islands more easily than land-birds. Bermuda, 0n the other hand, which lies at about the same distance from North America as the Galapagos Islands do from South America, and which has a very peculiar soil, does not possess one endemic land-bird; and we know from Mr. J. M. Jones’s admirable account of Bermuda, that very many North American birds, during their great annual migrations, visit either periodically or occasionally this island. Madeira does not possess one peculiar bird, and many European and African birds are almost every year blown there, as I am informed by Mr. E. V. Harcourt. So that these two islands of Bermuda and Madeira have been stocked by birds, which for long ages have struggled. together in their former homes, and have become mutually adapted to each other; and when settled in their new homes, each kind will have been kept by the others to their proper places and habits, and will Consequently have been little liable to modification. Any tendency to modification will also have been checked by intercrossing with the unmodified immigrants from the mother-country. Madeira again is inhabited by a wonderful number of peculiar land-shells, whereas not one species of sea-shell is confined to its shores: now, though we do not know how sea-shells are dispersed, yet we can see that their eggs are larvae, perhaps attached to sea—weed or floating timber, or to the feet of wadingbirds, might be transported far more easily than landshells, across three or four hundred miles of open sea. The different orders of insects in Madeira apparently present analogous facts. .

Oceanic islands are sometimes deficient in certain classes, and their places are apparently occupied by the other inhabitants; in the Galapagos Islands reptiles, and in New Zealand gigantic Wingless birds, take the place of mammals. In the plants of the Galapagos Islands, Dr. Hooker has shown that the proportional numbers of the different orders are very different from what they are elsewhere. Such cases are generally accounted for by the physical conditions of the islands; but this

« PreviousContinue »