Page images
PDF
EPUB

The wide distribution of species inhabiting fresh water compared with those living on land has not escaped the comprehensive mind of Darwin, and in explanation of the fact, he has shown how fresh-water shells may be carried from pool to pool, or from one river or lake to others many miles distant, sticking to the feet of water-fowl, or to the elytra of water-beetles. Whilst the distribution of water mollusks may be thus accounted for, it does not explain the greater variety and more restricted range of the land species. They have at least equal means of dispersion, compared with the sluggish, mud-loving watershells of our ponds and ditches. Why should the one have varied so much and the other so little P. We might at first sight have expected the very reverse, on the theory of natural selection. In large lakes and in river systems isolated from others, we might look for the conditions most favourable for the variation of species, and for the preservation of the improved varieties.

It is evident that there must have been less variation, or that the varieties that arose have not been preserved. I think it probable that the variation of fresh-water species of animals and plants has been constantly checked by the want of continuity of lakes and rivers in time and space. In the great oscillation of the surface of the earth, of which geologists find so many proofs, every fresh-water area has again and again been destroyed. It is not so with the ocean—it is continuous; and as one part was elevated and laid dry, the species could retreat to another. On the great continents the land has probably never been totally submerged at any one time; it also is continuous over great areas, and as one part became uninhabitable, the land species could in most

Ch. XVIII.] EXPLANATION OF FRESH-WATER FORMS. 335

cases retreat to another. But for the inhabitants of lakes and rivers there was no retreat, and whenever the sea overflowed the land, vast numbers of fresh-water species must have been destroyed. A fresh-water fauna gave place to a marine one, and the former was annihilated so far as that area was concerned. When the land again rose from below the Sea, the marine fauna was not destroyed—it simply retired farther back. There is every reason to believe that the production of species is a slow process, and if fresh-water areas have not continued as a rule through long geological periods, we can see how variation has been constantly checked by the destruction, first in one part, then in another, of all the fresh-water species; and on these places being again occupied by fresh water they were colonised by species from other parts of the world. Thus species of restricted range were always exposed to destruction because their habitat was temporary and their retreat impossible, and only families of wide distribution could be preserved. Hence I believe it is that the types of fresh-water productions are few and world-wide, whilst that the sea has mollusks innumerable, and the land great variety and wealth of species. Their variety is in the ratio of the continuity of their habitats in time and space. It follows also, from the same reasoning, that old and wide-spread types are more likely to be preserved in fresh-water areas than on land or in the sea, for the destruction of wide-ranging species is effected more by the competition of improved varieties than by physical causes; so that when variation is most checked old forms will longest survive. Therefore I think it is that amongst fishes we find some old geological types still preserved in a few of the large rivers of the world. To illustrate more clearly the theory I have advanced, I will take a supposititious case. In the southern states of America there is reason to suppose that since the glacial period there has been a great variation in the species of the fresh-water mollusk genus Melania, and in different rivers there are distinct groups of species. Now let us suppose that the glacial period was to return, and that the icy covering, gradually thickening in the north, should push down southward as it did once before. The great lakes of North America would be again filled with ice, and every one of their inhabitants destroyed. As the ice advanced southward, the inhabitants of one riversystem after another would be annihilated, and many groups of Melania entirely destroyed. On the retreat of the ice again the rivers and lakes would reappear, but the varieties of animals that had been developed in them would not, and their places would be taken by aquatic forms from other areas, so that the number of species would be thereby greatly reduced, and wide-spreading forms would be freed from the competition of many improved varieties. Viewed in this light, the similarity of fresh-water productions all over the world, instead of being a difficulty in the way of the acceptance of the theory of natural selection, becomes a strong argument in favour of its truth; for we perceive that the number of marine, terrestrial, and fresh-water animals is in proportion to the more or less continuous development that was possible under the different conditions under which they lived. The same line of argument might be used to explain

Ch. XVIII.] CONTINUITY OF LAND AND AIR. 337

the much greater variety in some classes of terrestrial animals than in others. The land has often been submerged in geological history, and the classes that were best fitted to escape the impending catastrophes would be most likely to preserve the varieties that had been developed. The atmosphere has always been continuous, and the animals that could use it as a highway had great advantages over those that could not, and so we find the slow-moving terrestrial mollusks few in number compared with the multitudinous hosts of strong-flying insects; similarly, the mammals are far out-numbered by the birds of the air, that can pass from island to island, and from country to country, unstopped by mighty rivers or wide arms of the sea.

CHAPTER XIX.

Iguanas and Lizards—Granada—Politics—Revolution—Cacao Cultivation—Masaya-—The Lake of Masaya—The Volcano of Masaya. — Origin of the Lake Basin.

THE road passed along a sandy ridge only a little elevated above the waters of the lake, and the ground on both sides was submerged. As we travelled on we were often startled by hearing sudden plunges into the water not far from us, but our view was so obstructed by bushes that it was some time before we discovered the cause. At last we found that the noise was made by large iguana lizards, some of them three feet long, and very bulky, dropping from the branches of trees, on which they lay stretched, into the water. These iguanas are extremely ugly, but are said to be delicious eating, the Indians being extremely fond of them. The Carca Indians, who live in the forest seven miles from Santo Domingo, travel every year to the great lake to catch iguanas, which abound on the dry hills near it. They seize them as they lie on the branches of the trees, with a loop at the end of a long stick. They then break the middle toe of each foot, and tie the feet together, in pairs, by the broken toes, afterwards sewing up the mouth of the poor reptiles, and carrying them in this state back to their houses in the forest, where they are

« EelmineJätka »