« EelmineJätka »
THE NEOTROPICAL REGION.
This region, comprehending not only South America but Tropical North America and the Antilles, may be compared as to extent with the Ethiopian region ; but it is distinguished from all the other great zoological divisions of the globe, by the small proportion of its surface occupied by deserts, by the large proportion of its lowlands, and by the altogether unequalled extent and luxuriance of its tropical forests. It further possesses a grand mountain range, rivalling the Himalayas in altitude and far surpassing them in extent, and which, being wholly situated within the region and running through eighty degrees of latitude, offers a variety of conditions and an extent of mountain slopes, of lofty plateaus and of deep valleys, which no other tropical region can approach. It has a further advantage in a southward prolongation far into the temperate zone, equivalent to a still greater extension of its lofty plateaus; and this has, no doubt, aided the development of the peculiar alpine forms of life which abound in the southern Andes. The climate of this region is exceptionally favourable. Owing to the lofty mountain range situated along its western margin, the moisture-laden trade winds from the Atlantic have free access to the interior. A sufficient proportion of this moisture reaches the higher slopes of the Andes, where its condensation gives rise to innumerable streams, which cut deep ravines and carry down such an amount of sediment, that they have formed the vast plains of the Amazon, of Para
guay, and of the Orinooko out of what were once, no doubt, arms of the sea, separating the large islands of Guiana, Brazil, and the Andes. From these concurrent favourable conditions, there has resulted that inexhaustible variety of generic and specific forms with a somewhat limited range of family and ordinal types, which characterise neotropical zoology to a degree nowhere else to be met with.
Together with this variety and richness, there is a remarkable uniformity of animal life over all the tropical continental portions of the region, so that its division into sub-regions is a matter of some difficulty. There is, however, no doubt about separating the West Indian islands as forming a well-marked subdivision; characterised, not only by that poverty of forms which is a general feature of ancient insular groups, but also by a number of peculiar generic types, some of which are quite foreign to the remainder of the region. We must exclude, however, the islands of Trinidad, Tobago, and a few other small islands near the coast, which zoologically form a part of the main land. Again, the South Temperate portion of the continent, together with the high plateaus of the Andes to near the equator, form a well-marked subdivision, characterised by a peculiar fauna, very distinct both positively and negatively from that of the tropical lowland districts. The rest of Tropical South America is so homogeneous in its forms of life that it cannot be conveniently subdivided for the purposes of a work like the present. There are, no doubt, considerable differences in various parts of its vast area, due partly to its having been once separated into three or more islands, in part to existing diversities of physical conditions; and more exact knowledge may enable us to form several provinces or perhaps additional sub-regions. A large proportion of the genera, however, when sufficiently numerous in species, range over almost the whole extent of this sub-region wherever the conditions are favourable. Even the Andes do not seem to form such a barrier as has been supposed. North of the equator, where its western slopes are moist and forest-clad, most of the genera are found on both sides. To the south of this line its western valleys are arid and its lower plains almost deserts; and thus the absence of a number of groups to which verdant forests axe essential, can be traced to the unsuitable conditions rather than to the existence of the mountain barrier. All Tropical South America, therefore, is here considered to form but one sub-region.
The portion of North America that lies within the tropics, closely resembles the last sub-region in general zoological features. It possesses hardly any positive distinctions; but there are several of a negative character, many important groups being wholly confined to South America. On the other hand many genera range into Mexico and Guatemala from the north, which never reach South America; so that it is convenient to separate this district as a sub-region, which forms, to some extent, a transition to the Nearctic region.
General Zoological Features of the Neotropical Region.—Richness combined with isolation is the predominant feature of Neotropical zoology, and no other region can approach it in the number of .its peculiar family and generic types. It has eight families of Mammalia absolutely confined to it, besides several others which are rare elsewhere. These consist of two families of monkeys, Cebidae and Hapalidse, both abounding in genera and species; the Phyllostomidse, or blood-sucking bats; Chinchillidae and Caviidae among rodents; besides the greater part of the Octodontidse, Echimyidae and Cercolabidae. Among edentata, it has Bradypodidae, or sloths, Dasypodidae, or armadillos, and Myrraecophagidae, or anteaters, constituting nearly the entire order; while Procyonidae, belonging to the carnivora, and Didelphyidae, a family of marsupials, only extend into the Nearctic region. It has also many peculiar groups of carnivora and of Muridae, making a total of full a hundred genera confined to the region. Hardly less remarkable is the absence of many widespread groups. With the exception of one genus in the West Indian islands and a Sorex which reaches Guatemala and Costa Rica, the Insectivora are wholly wanting; as is also the extensive and wide-spread family of the Viverridae. It has no oxen or sheep, and indeed no form of ruminant except deer and llamas; neither do its vast forests and grassy plains support a single form of non-ruminant ungulate, except the tapir and the peccary.