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The present work is an attempt to collect and summarize the existing information on the Distribution of Land Animals; and to explain the more remarkable and interesting of the facts, by means of established laws of physical and organic change.
The main idea, which is here worked out in some detail for the whole earth, was stated sixteen years ago in the concluding
pages of a paper on the “ Zoological Geography of the Malay 8 Archipelago," which appeared in the Journal of Proceedings of
the Linnean Society for 1860; and again, in a paper read before the Royal Geographical Society in 1863, it was briefly summarized in the following passage
My object has been to show the important bearing of researches into the natural history of every part of the world, upon the study of its past history. An accurate knowledge of any groups of birds or of insects and of their geographical distribution, may enable us to map out the islands and continents of a former epoch,—the amount of difference that exists between the animals of adjacent districts being closely related'
to preceding geological changes. By the collection of such Ominute facts, alone, can we hope to fill up a great gap in the
past history of the earth as revealed by geology, and obtain some indications of the existence of those ancient lands which now lie buried beneath the ocean, and have left us nothing but these living records of their former existence.”
The detailed study of several groups of the birds and insects collected by myself in the East, brought prominently before me some of the curious problems of Geographical Distribution ; but I should hardly have ventured to treat the whole subject, had it not been for the kind encouragement of Mr. Darwin and Professor Newton, who, about six years ago, both suggested that I should undertake the task. I accordingly set to work; but soon became discouraged by the great dearth of materials in many groups, the absence of general systematic works, and the excessive confusion that pervaded the classification. Neither was it easy to decide on any satisfactory method of treating the subject. During the next two years, however, several important catalogues and systematic treatises appeared, which induced me to resume my work; and during the last three years it has occupied a large portion of my time.
After much consideration, and some abortive trials, an outline plan of the book was matured ; and as this is, so far as I am aware, quite novel, it will be well to give a few of the reasons for adopting it.
Most of the previous writings on Geographical Distribution appeared to me to be unsatisfactory, because they drew their conclusions from a more or less extensive selection of facts; and did not clearly separate groups of facts of unequal value, or those relating to groups of animals of unequal rank. As an example of what is meant, I may refer to Mr. Andrew Murray's large and valuable work on the Geographical Distribution of Mammalia, in which an immense number of coloured maps are
used to illustrate the distribution of various groups of animals. These maps are not confined to groups of any fixed rank, but are devoted to a selection of groups of various grades. Some show the range of single species of a genus—as the lion, the tiger, the puma, and a species of fox; others are devoted to sections of genera,-as the true wolves; others to genera, -as the hyænas, and the bears; others to portions of families,—as the flying squirrels, and the oxen with the bisons; others to families,
-as the Mustelidæ, and the Hystricidæ; and others to groups of families or to orders,
as the Insectivora, and the opossums with the kangaroos.
But in no one grade are all the groups treated alike. Many genera are wholly unnoticed, while several families are only treated in combination with others, or are represented by some of the more important genera.
In making these observations I by no means intend to criticise Mr. Murray's book, but merely to illustrate by an example, the method which has been hitherto employed, and which seems to me not well adapted to enable us to establish the foundations of the science of distribution on a secure basis. To do this, uniformity of treatment appeared to me essential, both as a matter of principle, and to avoid all imputation of a partial selection of facts, which may be made to prove anything. I determined, therefore, to take in succession every well-established family of terrestrial vertebrates, and to give an account of the distribution of all its component genera, as far as materials were available. Species, as such, are systematically disregarded, -firstly, because they are so numerous as to be unmanageable; and, secondly, because they represent the most recent modifications of form, due to a variety of often unknown causes, and are therefore not so clearly connected with geographical changes as are the natural groups of species termed genera; which may be considered to represent the average and more permanent
distribution of an organic type, and to be more clearly influenced by the various known or inferred changes in the organic and physical environment.
This systematic review of the distribution of families and genera, now forms the last part of my book-Geographical Zoology; but it was nearly the first written, and the copious materials collected for it enabled me to determine the zoogeographical divisions of the earth (regions and sub-regions) to be adopted. I next drew up tables of the families and genera found in each region and sub-region ; and this afforded a basis for the geographical treatment of the subjectZoological Geography—the most novel, and perhaps the most useful and generally interesting part of my work. While this was in progress I found it necessary to make a careful summary of the distribution of extinct Mammalia. This was a difficult task, owing to the great uncertainty that prevails as to the affinities of many of the fossils, and my want of practical acquaintance with Palæontology; but having carefully examined and combined the works of the best authors, I have given what I believe is the first connected sketch of the relation of extinct Mammalia to the distribution of living groups, and have arrived at some very interesting and suggestive results.
It will be observed that man is altogether omitted from the series of the animal kingdom as here given, and some explanation of this omission may perhaps be required. If the genus Homo had been here treated like all other genera, nothing more than the bare statement—"universally distributed”
. could have been given ;-and this would inevitably have provoked the criticism that it conveyed no information. If, on the other hand, I had given an outline of the distribution of the varieties or races of man, I should have departed from the plan of
my work for no sufficient reason. Anthropology is a science
by itself; and it seems better to omit it altogether from a zoological work, than to treat it in a necessarily superficial
The best method of illustrating a work of this kind was a matter requiring much consideration. To have had a separate coloured or shaded map for each family would have made the work too costly, as the terrestrial vertebrates alone would have required more than three hundred maps. I had also doubts about the value of this mode of illustration, as it seemed rather to attract attention to details than to favour the development of general views. I determined therefore to adopt a plan, suggested in conversation by Professor Newton; and to have one general map, showing the regions and sub-regions, which could be referred to by means of a series of numbers. These references I give in the form of diagrammatic headings to each family; and, when the map has become familiar, these will, I believe, convey at a glance a body of important information.
Taking advantage of the recent extension of our knowledge of the depths of the great oceans, I determined to give upon this map a summary of our knowledge of the contours of the ocean bed, by means of tints of colour increasing in intensity with the depth. Such a map, when it can be made generally accurate, will be of the greatest service in forming an estimate of the more probable changes of sea and land during the Tertiary period; and it is on the effects of such changes that any satisfactory explanation of the facts of distribution must to a great extent depend.
Other important factors in determining the actual distribution of animals are, the zones of altitude above the sea level, and the strongly contrasted character of the surface as regards vegetation—a primary condition for the support of animal life. I