PRINCIPLES OF GEOLOGY -- VOLUME 2
Influence of inorganic causes in changing the habitations of species Powers of diffusion indispensable, that each species may maintain its ground How changes in the physical geography affect the distribution of species Rate of the change of species cannot be uniform, however regular the action of the inorganic causes Illustration derived from subsidences by earthquakes From the elevation of land by the same From the formation of new islands From the wearing through of an isthmus Each change in the physical geography of large regions must occasion the extinction of species Effects of a general alteration of climate on the migration of species Gradual refrigeration causes species in the northern and southern hemispheres to become distinct Elevation of temperature the reverse Effects in the distribution of species which must result from vicissitudes in climate inconsistent with the theory of transmutation
HAVING shown in the last chapter how considerably the numerical increase or the extension of the geographical range of anyone species must derange the numbers and distribution of others, let us now direct our attention to the influence which the inorganic causes described in our first volume are continually exerting on the habitations of species.
So great is the instability of the earth's surface, that if Nature were not continually engaged in the task of sowing seeds and colonizing animals, the depopulation of a certain portion of the habitable sea and land would in a few years be considerable. Whenever a river transports sediment into a lake or sea, the aquatic animals and plants which delight in deep water are expelled: the tract, however, is not allowed to remain useless, but is soon peopled by species which require more light and heat, and thrive where the water is shallow. Every addition made to the land by the encroachment of the delta of a river banishes many subaqueous species from their native abodes; but the new-formed plain is not permitted to lie unoccupied, being instantly covered with terrestrial vegetation. The ocean devours continuous lines of sea-coast, and precipitates forests or rich pasture-land into the waves; but this space is not lost to the animate creation, for shells and seaweed soon adhere to the new-made cliffs, and numerous fish people the channel which the current has scooped out for itself. No sooner has a volcanic isle been thrown up than some lichens begin to grow upon it, and it is sometimes clothed with verdure, while smoke and ashes are still occasionally thrown from the crater. The cocoa, pandanus, and mangrove take root upon the coral reef before it has fairly risen above the waves. The burning stream of lava that descends from Etna rolls through the stately forest, and converts to ashes every tree and herb which stand in its way;. but the black strip of land thus desolated, is covered again, in the course of time, with oaks, pines, and chestnuts, as luxuriant as those which the fiery torrent swept away.
Every flood and landslip, every wave which a hurricane or earthquake throws upon the shore, every shower of volcanic dust and ashes which buries a country far and wide to the depth of many feet, every advance of the sand-Hood, every conversion of salt-water into fresh when rivers alter their main channel of discharge, every permanent variation in the rise or fall of tides in an estuary-these and countless other causes displace in the course of a few centuries certain plants and animals from stations which they previously occupied. If, therefore, the Author of Nature had not been prodigal of those numerous contrivances before alluded to, for spreading all classes of organic beings over the earth -- if he had not ordained that the fluctuations of the animate and inanimate creation should be in perfect harmony with each other, it is evident that considerable spaces, now the most habitable on the globe, would soon be as devoid of life as are the Alpine snows, or the dark abysses of the ocean, or the moving sands of the Sahara.
The powers then of migration and diffusion conferred on animals and plants, are indispensable to enable them to maintain their ground, and would be necessary even though it were never intended that a species should gradually extend its geo graphical range. But a facility of shifting their quarters being once given, it cannot fail to happen that the inhabitants of one province should occasionally penetrate into some other, since the strongest of those barriers which we before described as separating distinct regions, are all liable to be thrown down one after the other, during the vicissitudes of the earth's surface.
The numbers and distribution of particular species are affected in two ways, by changes in the physical geography of the earth. First, these changes promote or retard the migrations of species; secondly, they alter the physical conditions of the localities which species inhabit. If the ocean should gradually wear its way through an isthmus, like that of Suez, it would open a passage for the intermixture of the aquatic tribes of two seas previously disjoined, and would, at the same time, close a free communication which the terrestrial plants and animals of two continents had before enjoyed. These would be, perhaps, the most important consequences in regard to the distribution of species, which would result from the breach made by the sea in such a spot; but there would be others of a distinct nature, such as the conversion of a certain tract of land which formed the isthmus into sea. This space previously occupied by terrestrial plants and animals would be immediately delivered over to the aquatic, a local revolution which might have happened in innumerable other parts of the globe, without being attended by any alteration in the blending together of species of two distinct provinces.
This observation leads us to point out one of the most interesting conclusions to which we are led by the contemplation of the vicissitudes of the inanimate world in relation to those of the animate. It is clear that if the agency of inorganic causes be uniform as we have supposed, they must operate very irregularly on the state of organic beings, so that the rate according to which these will change in particular regions will not be equal in equal periods of time.
We are not about to advocate the doctrine of general catastrophes recurring at certain intervals., as in the ancient oriental cosmogonies, nor do we doubt that if very considerable periods of equal duration could be taken into our consideration and compared one with another, the rate of change in the living, as well as in the inorganic world, would be nearly uniform; but if we regard each of the causes separately, which we know to be at present the most instrumental in remodelling the state of the surface, we shall find that we must expect each to be in action for thousands of years, without producing any extensive alterations in the habitable surface, and then to give rise, during a very brief period, to important revolutions.
We shall illustrate this principle by a few of the most remarkable examples which present themselves. In the course of the last century, as we have before pointed out, a considerable number of instances are recorded of the solid surface, whether covered by water or not, having been permanently sunk or upraised by the power of earthquakes. Most of these convulsions are only accompanied by temporary fluctuations in the state of limited districts, and a continued repetition of these events for thousands of years might not produce any decisive change in the state of many of those great zoological or botanical provinces of which we have sketched the boundaries.
When, for example, large parts of the ocean and even of inland seas are a thousand fathoms or upwards in depth it is a matter of no moment to the animate creation that vast tracts should be heaved up many fathoms at certain intervals, or should subside to the same amount. Neither can any material revolution be produced in South America either in the terrestrial or the marine plants or animals by a series of shocks on the coast of Chili, each of which, like that of Penco, in 1750, should uplift the coast about twenty-five feet. Nor if the ground sinks fifty feet at a time, as in the harbour of Port Royal, in Jamaica, in 1692, will such alterations of level work any general fluctuations in the state of organic beings inhabiting the West India islands, or the Caribbean Sea.
It is only when these subterranean powers, by shifting gradually the points where their principal force is developed, happen to strike upon some particular region where a slight change of level immediately affects the distribution of land and water, or the state of the climate, or the barriers between distinct groups of species over extensive areas, that the rate of fluctuation becomes accelerated, and may, in the course of a few years or centuries, work mightier changes than had been experienced in myriads of antecedent years.
Thus, for example, a repetition of subsidences causing the narrow isthmus of Panama to sink down a few hundred feet, might in a few centuries bring about a great revolution in the state of the animate creation in the western hemisphere. Thousands of aquatic species would pass for the first time from the Caribbean Sea into the Pacific; and thousands of others, before peculiar to the Pacific ocean, would make their way into the Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Atlantic. A considerable modification would probably be occasioned by the same event in the direction or volume of the Gulf-stream, and thereby the temperature of the sea and the contiguous lands would be altered as far as the influence of that current extends. A change of climate might thus be produced in the ocean from Florida to Spitzbergen, and in many countries of North America, Europe, and Greenland. Not merely the heat, but the quantity of rain which falls would be altered in certain districts, so that many species would be excluded from tracts where they before flourished; others would be reduced in number; and some would thrive more and multiply. The seeds also and the fruits of plants would no longer be drifted in precisely the same directions, nor the eggs of aquatic animals; neither would species be any longer impeded in their migrations towards particular stations before shut out from them by their inability to cross the mighty current.
Let us take another example from a part of the globe which is at present liable to suffer by earthquakes, viz., the low sandy tract which intervenes between the sea of Azof and the Caspian. If there should occur a sinking down to a trifling amount, and such ravines should be formed as might be pro duced by a few earthquakes, not more considerable than have fallen within our limited observation during the last one hundred and forty years, the waters of the sea of Azof would pour rapidly into the Caspian, which, according to the lowest estimate, is fifty feet lower than the level of the Black Sea, and which, according to some writers of considerable authority, is one hundred and fifty feet, -- according to others, three hundred feet below the level of the Sea of Azof.  The latter sea would immediately borrow from the Euxine, the Euxine from the Mediterranean, and the Mediterranean from the Atlantic, so that an inexhaustible current would pour down into the low tracts of Asia bordering the Caspian, by which all the sandy salt steppes adjacent to that sea would be inundated.
The diluvial waters would reach the salt lake of Aral, nor stop until their eastern shores were bounded by the high land which in the steppe of the Kirghis connects the Altay with the Himalaya mountains. A few years, perhaps a few months might suffice for the accomplishment of this great revolution in the geography of the interior of Asia; and it is impossible for those who believe in the permanence of the energy with which existing causes now act, not to anticipate such events again and again in the course of future ages.
Let us next imagine a few cases of the elevation of land of small extent at certain critical points, as, for example, in the shallowest parts of the Straits of Gibraltar, where the soundings from the African to the European side give only two hundred and twenty fathoms. In proportion as this submarine barrier of rock was upheaved, to effect which would merely require the shocks of partial and confined earthquakes, the volume of water which pours in from the Atlantic into the Mediterranean would be lessened. But the loss of the inland sea by evaporation would remain the same, so that being no longer able to draw on the ocean for a supply sufficient to restore its equilibrium, it must sink, and leave dry a certain portion of land around its borders. The current which now Bows constantly out of the Black Sea into the Mediterranean would then rush in more rapidly, and the level of the Mediterranean would be thereby prevented from falling so low; but the level of the Black Sea would, for the same reason, sink, so that when, by a continued series of elevatory movements, the Straits of Gibraltar had become completely closed up, we might expect large and level sandy steppes to surround both the Euxine and Mediterranean, like those occurring at present on the skirts of the Caspian, and the sea of Aral. The geographical range of hundreds of aquatic species 'would be thereby circumscribed, and that of hundreds of terrestrial plants and animals extended.
A line of submarine volcanos crossing the channel of some strait, and gradually choking it up with ashes and lava, might produce a new barrier as effectually as a series of earthquakes; especially if thermal springs, plentifully charged with carbonate of lime, silica, and other mineral ingredients, should promote the rapid multiplication of corals and shells, and cement them together with solid matter precipitated during the intervals between eruptions. Suppose in this manner a stoppage to be caused of the Bahama Channel between the bank of that name and the coast of Florida. This insignificant revolution, confined to a mere spot in the bottom of the ocean, would, by diverting the main current of the Gulf-stream, give rise more effectually than the opening of the Straits of Panama before supposed, to extensive changes in the climate and distribution of animals and plants inhabiting the northern hemisphere.
A repetition of elevatory movements of earthquakes might continue over an area as extensive as Europe, for thousands of ages, at the bottom of the ocean in certain regions, and produce no visible effects; whereas, if they should operate in some shallow parts of the Pacific, amid the coral archipelagos, they would soon give birth to a new continent. Hundreds of volcanic islands may be thrown up and become covered with vegetation, without causing more than local fluctuations in the animate world; but if a chain like the Aleutian archipelago or the Kurile isles, run for a distance of many hundred miles, so as to form an almost uninterrupted communication between two continents, or two distant islands, the migrations of plants, birds, insects, and even of some quadrupeds, may cause in a short time an extraordinary series of revolutions, tending to augment the range of some animals and plants, and to limit that of others. A new archipelago might be formed in the Mediterranean, the Bay of Biscay, and a thousand other localities, and might produce less important events than one rock which should rise up between Australia and Java so placed that winds and currents might cause an interchange of the plants, insects, and birds, of the latter countries.
If we turn from the igneous to the aqueous agents, we find the same tendency to an irregular rate of change, naturally connected with the strictest uniformity in the energy of those causes. When the sea, for example, gradually encroaches upon both sides of a narrow isthmus, as that of Sleswick, separating the North Sea from the Baltic, where, as we stated, the cliffs on both the opposite coasts are wasting away,  no material alteration results for thousands of years, save only that there is a progressive conversion of a small strip of land into water. A few feet only, or a few yards, are annually removed; but when at last the partition shall be broken down, and the tides of the ocean shall enter by a direct passage into the inland sea, instead of going by a circuitous route through the Cattegat, a body of salt- water will sweep up as far as the Gulfs of Bothnia and Finland, the waters of which are now brackish, or almost fresh; and this revolution will be attended by the local annihilation of many species.
Similar consequences must have resulted, on a small scale, when the sea opened its way through the isthmus of Staveren in the thirteenth century, forming an union between an inland lake and the ocean, and opening, in the course of one century, a shallow strait more than half as wide as the narrowest part of that which divides England from France.
It will almost seem superfluous, after we have thus traced the important modifications in the condition of living beings which flow from changes of trifling extent, to argue that entire revolutions might be brought about, if the climate and physical geography of the whole globe were greatly altered. Species we have stated are, in general, local, some being confined to extremely small spots, and depending for their existence on a combination of causes which, if they are to be met with elsewhere, occur only in some very remote region. Hence it must happen that when the nature of these localities is changed the species will perish; for it will rarely happen that the cause which alters the character of the district will afford new facilities to the species to establish itself elsewhere.
If we attribute the origin of a great part of the desert of Africa to the gradual progress of moving sands, driven eastward by the westerly winds, we may safely infer that a variety of species must have been annihilated by this cause alone. The sand-flood has been inundating, from time immemorial, the rich lands on the west of the Nile, and we have only to multiply this effect a sufficient number of times, in order to understand how, in the lapse of ages, a whole group of terrestrial animals and plants may become extinct.
This desert, without including Bornou and Darfour, extends, according to the calculation of Humboldt, over one hundred and ninety-four thousand square leagues, an area far more than double that of the Mediterranean, which occupies only seventy-nine thousand eight hundred square leagues. In a small portion of so vast a space, we may infer, from analogy, that there were many peculiar species of plants and animals which must have been banished by the sand, and their habitations invaded by the camel and by birds and insects formed for the arid sands.
There is evidently nothing in the nature of the catastrophe to favour the escape of the former inhabitants to some adjoining province; nothing to weaken, in the bordering lauds, that powerful barrier against emigration -- pre-occupancy. Nor, even if the exclusion of a certain group of species from a given tract were compensated by an extension of their range over a new country, would that circumstance tend to the conservation of species in general; for the extirpation would merely then be transferred to the region so invaded. If it be imagined, for example, that the aboriginal quadrupeds, birds, and other animals of Africa emigrated in consequence of the advance of drift-sand, and colonized Arabia, the indigenous Arabian species must have given way before them, and have been reduced in number or destroyed.
Let us next suppose that, in some central and more elevated parts of the great African desert, the upheaving power of earthquakes should be exerted throughout an immense series of ages, accompanied, at certain intervals, by volcanic eruptions such as gave rise at once, in 1755, to a mountain one thousand seven hundred feet high, on the Mexican plateau. When the continued repetition of these events had caused a mountain-chain, it is obvious that a complete transformation in the state of the climate would be brought about throughout a vast area.
We will imagine the summits of the new chain to rise so as to be covered, like Mount Atlas, for several thousand feet, with snow during a great part of the year. The melting of these snows, during the greatest heat, would cause the rivers to swell in the season when the greatest drought now prevails; the waters, moreover, derived from this source, would always be of lower temperature than the surrounding atmosphere, and would thus contribute to cool the climate. During the numerous earthquakes and volcanic eruptions which would attend the gradual formation of the chain, there would be many floods, caused by the bursting of temporary lakes and by the melting of snows by lava. These inundations would deposit alluvial matter far and wide over the original sands at all levels, as the country assumed various shapes, and was modified again and again by the moving power from below, and the aqueous erosion of the surface above. At length the Sahara would be fertilized, irrigated by rivers and streamlets intersecting it in every direction, and covered by jungle and morasses, so that the animals and plants which now people northern Africa would disappear, and the region would gradually become fitted for the reception of a population of species perfectly dissimilar in their forms, habits, and organization.
There are always some peculiar and characteristic features in the physical geography of each large division of the globe; and on these peculiarities the state of animal and vegetable life is dependent. If, therefore, we admit incessant fluctuations in the physical geography, we must, at the same time, concede the successive extinction of terrestrial and aquatic species to be part of the economy of our system. When some great class of stations is in excess in certain latitudes, as, for example, in wide savannahs, arid sands, lofty mountains, or inland seas, we find a corresponding development of species adapted for such circumstances. In North America, where there is a chain of vast inland lakes of fresh-water, we find an extraordinary abundance and variety of aquatic birds, fresh-water fish, testacea, and small amphibious reptiles, fitted for such a climate. The greater part of these would perish if the lakes were destroyed, -- an event that might be brought about by some of the least of those important revolutions contemplated in geology. It might happen that no fresh-water lakes of corresponding magnitude might then exist on the globe; but if they occurred elsewhere, they might be situated in New Holland, Southern Africa, Eastern Asia, or some region so distant as to be quite inaccessible to the North American species; or they might be situated within the tropics, in a climate uninhabitable by species fitted for a temperate zone; or, finally, we may presume that they would be pre-occupied by indigenous tribes.
To pursue this train of reasoning farther is unnecessary; the reader has only to reflect on what we have said of the habitations and the stations of organic beings in general, and to consider them in relation to those effects which we have contemplated in our first volume as resulting from the igneous and aqueous causes now in action, and he will immediately perceive that, amidst the vicissitudes of the earth's surface, species cannot be immortal, but must perish one after the other, like the individuals which compose them. There is no possibility of escaping from this conclusion, without resorting to some hypothesis as violent as that of Lamarck, who imagined, as we have before seen, that species are each of them endowed with indefinite powers of modifying their organization, in conformity to the endless changes of circumstances to which they are exposed.
Some of the effects which must attend every general alteration of climate are sufficiently peculiar to claim a separate consideration before concluding the present chapter.
We have before stated that, during seasons of extraordinary severity, many northern birds, and, in some countries, many quadrupeds, migrate southwards. If these cold seasons were to become frequent, in consequence of a gradual and general refrigeration of the atmosphere, such migrations would be more and more regular, until, at length, many animals, now confined to the arctic regions, would become the tenants of the temperate zone; while the inhabitants of the latter would approach nearer to the equator. At the same time, many species previously established on high mountains, would begin to descend, in every latitude, towards the middle regions, and those which were confined to the flanks of mountains would make their way into the plains. Analogous changes would also take place in the vegetable kingdom.
If, on the contrary, the heat of the atmosphere be on the increase, the plants and animals of low grounds would ascend to higher levels, the equatorial species would migrate into the temperate zone, and those of the temperate into the arctic circle.
But although some species might thus be preserved, every great change of climate must be fatal to many which can find no place of retreat, when their original habitations become unfit for them. For if the general temperature be on the rise, then is there no cooler region whither the polar species can take refuge; if it be on the decline, then the animals and plants previously established between the tropics have no resource. Suppose the general heat of the atmosphere to in. crease, so that even the arctic region became too warm for the musk-ox and rein-deer, it is clear that they must perish; so, if the torrid zone should lose so much of its heat by the progressive refrigeration of the earth's surface, as to be an unfit habitation for apes, boas, bamboos, and palms, these tribes of animals and plants, or at least most of the species now belonging to them, would become extinct, for there would be no warmer latitudes for their reception.
It will follow, therefore, that as often as the climates of the globe are passing from the extreme of heat to that of cold -- from the summer to the winter of the great year before alluded to by us  -- the migratory movement will be directed constantly from the poles towards the equator; and for this reason the species inhabiting parallel latitudes, in the northern and southern hemispheres, must become widely different. For we assume, on grounds before stated,  that the original stock of each species is introduced into one spot of the earth only, and, consequently, no species can be at once indigenous in the arctic and antarctic circles.
But when, on the contrary, a series of changes in the physical geography of the globe, or any other supposed cause, occasions an elevation of the general temperature, -- when there is a passage from the winter to one of the vernal or summer seasons of the great cycle of climates, then the order of the migratory movement is inverted. The different species of animals and plants direct their course from the equator towards the poles; and the northern and southern hemispheres may become peopled, to a great degree, by identical species. Such is not the actual state of the inhabited earth, as we have already shown in our sketch of the geographical distribution of its living productions; and this fact adds one more additional proof to a great body of evidence, derived from independent sources, that the general temperature has been cooling down during the epochs which immediately preceded our own.
We do not mean to speculate on the entire transposition of a group of animals and plants from tropical to polar latitudes, or the reverse, as a probable, or even possible, event; for although we believe the mean annual temperature of one zone to be transferrible to another, we know that the same climate cannot be so transferred. Whatever be the general temperature of the earth's surface, comparative equability of heat will characterize the tropical regions, while great periodical variations will belong to the temperate, and still more to the polar latitudes. These, and many other peculiarities connected with heat and light, depend on fixed astronomical causes, such as the motion of the earth and its position in relation to the sun, and not on those fluctuations of its surface, which may influence the general temperature.
Among many obstacles to such extensive transferences of habitations, we must not forget the immense lapse of time required, according to any hypothesis yet suggested, especially that which has appeared to us most feasible, to bring about a considerable change in climate. During a period so vast, the other causes of extirpation, before enumerated by us, would exert so powerful an influence as to prevent all, save a very few hardy species. from passing from equatorial to polar regions, or from the tropics to the pole.
But the power of accommodation to new circumstances is great in certain species, and might enable many to pass from one zone to another, if the mean annual heat of the atmosphere and the ocean were greatly altered. To the marine tribes, especially, such a passage would be possible, for they are less impeded in their migrations, by barriers of land, than are the terrestrial by the ocean. Add to this, that the temperature of the ocean is much more uniform than that of the atmosphere in· vesting the land, so that we may easily suppose that most of the testacea, fish, and other classes, might pass from the equatorial into the temperate regions, if the mean temperature of those regions were transposed, although a second expatriation of these species of tropical origin into the arctic and antarctic circles would probably be impossible.
On the principles above explained, if we found that at some former period, as when, for example, our carboniferous strata were deposited, the same tree-ferns and other plants inhabited the regions now occupied by Europe and Van Dieman's Land, we should suspect that the species in question had, at some antecedent period, inhabited lands within the tropics, and that an increase of the mean annual heat had caused them to emigrate into both the temperate zones. There are no geological data, however, as yet obtained, to warrant the opinion that such identity of species existed in the two hemispheres in the era in question.
Let us now consider more particularly the effect of vicissitudes of climate in causing one species to give way before the increasing numbers of some other.
When temperature forms the barrier which arrests the progress of an animal or plant in a particular direction, the individuals are fewer and less vigorous as they approach the extreme confines of the geographical range of the species. But these stragglers are ready to multiply rapidly on the slightest increase or diminution of heat that may be favourable to them, just as particular insects increase during a hot summer, and certain plants and animals gain ground after a series of congenial seasons.
In almost every district, especially if it be mountainous, there are a variety of species the limits of whose habitations are conterminous, some being unable to proceed farther without encountering too much heat, others too much cold. Individuals, which are thus on the borders of the regions proper to their respective species, are like the out-posts of hostile armies, ready to profit by every slight change of circumstances in their favour, and to advance upon the ground occupied by their neighbours and opponents.
The proximity of distinct climates, produced by the inequalities of the earth's surface, brings species possessing very different constitutions into such immediate contact, that their naturalizations are very speedy whenever opportunities of advancing present themselves. Many insects and plants, for example, are common to low plains within the arctic circle, and to lofty mountains in Scotland and other parts of Europe. If the climate, therefore, of the polar regions were transferred to our own latitudes, the species in question would immediately descend from these elevated stations to overrun the low grounds. Invasions of this kind, attended by the expulsion of the pre-occupants, are almost instantaneous, because the change of temperature not only places the one species in a more favourable position, but renders the others sickly and almost incapable of defence.
Lamarck appears to have speculated on the modifications to which every variation of external circumstances might give rise in the form and organization of species, as if he had indefinite periods of time at his command, not sufficiently reflecting that revolutions in the state of the habitable earth, whether by changes of climate or any other condition, are attended by still greater fluctuations in the relative condition of contemporary species. They can avail themselves of these alterations in their favour instantly, and augment their numbers to the injury of some other species; whereas the supposed transmutations are only assumed to be brought about by slow and insensible degrees, and in a lapse of ages, the duration of which is beyond the reach of human conception Even if we thought it possible that the palm or the elephant, which now flourish in equatorial regions, could ever learn to bear the variable seasons of our temperate zone, or the rigours of an arctic winter, we should, with no less confidence, affirm, that they must perish before they had time to become habituated to such new circumstances. That they would be supplanted by other species at each variation of climate, may be inferred from what we have before said of the known local exterminations of species which have resulted from the multiplication of others. Some minute insect, perhaps, might be the cause of destruction to the huge and powerful elephant.
Suppose the climate of the highest part of the woody zone of Etna to be transferred to the sea-shore at the base of the mountain, no botanist would anticipate that the olive, lemon-tree, and prickly pear (Cactus opuntia), would be able to con tend with the oak and chestnut, which would begin forthwith to descend to a lower level, or that these last would be able to stand their ground against the pine, which would also, in the space of a few years, begin to occupy a lower position. We might form some kind of estimate of the time which might be required for the migrations of these plants; whereas we have no data for concluding that any number of thousands of years would be sufficient for one step in the pretended metamorphosis of one species into another, possessing distinct attributes and qualities.
This argument is applicable not merely to climate, but to any other cause of mutation. However slowly a lake may be converted into a marsh, or a marsh into a meadow, it is evident that before the lacustrine plants can acquire the power of living in marshes, or the marsh- lants of living in a less humid soil, other species, already existing in the region, and fitted for these several stations, will intrude and keep possession of the ground. So if a tract of salt-water becomes fresh by passing through every intermediate degree of brackishness, still the marine molluscs will never be permitted to be gradually metamorphosed into fluviatile species; because long before any such transformation can take place by slow and insensible degrees, other tribes, which delight in brackish or fresh-water, will avail themselves of the change in the fluid, and will, each in their turn, monopolize the space.
It is idle to dispute about the abstract possibility of the conversion of one species into another, when there are known causes so much more active in their nature, which must always intervene and prevent the actual accomplishment of such conversions. A faint image of the certain doom of a species less fitted to struggle with some new condition in a region which it previously inhabited, and where it has to contend with a more vigorous species, is presented by the extirpation of savage tribes of men by the advancing colony of some civilized nation. In this case the contest is merely between two different races, each gifted with equal capacities of improvement -- between two varieties, moreover, of a species which exceeds all others in its aptitude to accommodate its habits to the most extraordinary variations of circumstances. Yet few future events are more certain than the speedy extermination of the Indians of North America and the savages of New Holland in the course of a few centuries, when these tribes will be remembered only in poetry and tradition.
1. Malte-Brun, vol. vi. p. 405.
2. Vol. i. p. 289.
3. Vol. i., p. 116.
4. Chap. VIII.