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Chapter 2

ON THE VARIATION OF ORGANIC BEINGS IN A WILD STATE; ON THE NATURAL MEANS OF SELECTION; AND ON THE COMPARISON OF DOMESTIC RACES AND TRUE SPECIES


Having treated of variation under domestication, we now come to it in a state of nature.

Most organic beings in a state of nature vary exceedingly little[218]: I put out of the case variations (as stunted plants &c., and sea-shells in brackish water[219]) which are directly the effect of external agencies and which we do not know are in the breed[220], or are hereditary. The amount of hereditary variation is very difficult to ascertain, because naturalists (partly from the want of knowledge, and partly from the inherent difficulty of the subject) do not all agree whether certain forms are species or races[221]. Some strongly marked races of plants, comparable with the decided sports of horticulturalists, undoubtedly exist in a state of nature, as is actually known by experiment, for instance in the primrose and cowslip[222], in two so-called species of dandelion, in two of foxglove[223], and I believe in some pines. Lamarck has observed that, as long as we confine our attention to one limited country, there is seldom much difficulty in deciding what forms to call species and what varieties; and that it is when collections flow in from all parts of the world that naturalists often feel at a loss to decide the limit of variation. Undoubtedly so it is, yet amongst British plants (and I may add land shells), which are probably better known than any in the world, the best naturalists differ very greatly in the relative proportions of what they call species and what varieties. In many genera of insects, and shells, and plants, it seems almost hopeless to establish which are which. In the higher classes there are less doubts; though we find considerable difficulty in ascertaining what deserve to be called species amongst foxes and wolves, and in some birds, for instance in the case of the white barn-owl. When specimens are brought from different parts of the world, how often do naturalists dispute this same question, as I found with respect to the birds brought from the Galapagos islands. Yarrell has remarked that the individuals of the same undoubted species of birds, from Europe and N. America, usually present slight, indefinable though perceptible differences. The recognition indeed of one animal by another of its kind seems to imply some difference. The disposition of wild animals undoubtedly differs. The variation, such as it is, chiefly affects the same parts in wild organisms as in domestic breeds; for instance, the size, colour, and the external and less important parts. In many species the variability of certain organs or qualities is even stated as one of the specific characters: thus, in plants, colour, size, hairiness, the number of the stamens and pistils, and even their presence, the form of the leaves; the size and form of the mandibles of the males of some insects; the length and curvature of the beak in some birds (as in Opetiorynchus) are variable characters in some species and quite fixed in others. I do not perceive that any just distinction can be drawn between this recognised variability of certain parts in many species and the more general variability of the whole frame in domestic races.

[218] In Chapter II of the first edition of the Origin Darwin insists rather on the presence of variability in a state of nature; see, for instance, p. 45, Ed. vi. p. 53, "I am convinced that the most experienced naturalist would be surprised at the number of the cases of variability ... which he could collect on good authority, as I have collected, during a course of years."

[219] See Origin, Ed. i. p. 44, vi. p. 52.

[220] [[Note in the original.]] Here discuss what is a species, sterility can most rarely be told when crossed.--Descent from common stock.

[221] [[Note in the original.]] Give only rule: chain of intermediate forms, and analogy; this important. Every Naturalist at first when he gets hold of new variable type is quite puzzled to know what to think species and what variations.

[222] The author had not at this time the knowledge of the meaning of dimorphism.

[223] [[Note in original.]] Compare feathered heads in very different birds with spines in Echidna and Hedgehog. [[In Variation under Domestication, Ed. ii. vol. II. p. 317, Darwin calls attention to laced and frizzled breeds occurring in both fowls and pigeons. In the same way a peculiar form of covering occurs in Echidna and the hedgehog.]]

Plants under very different climate not varying. Digitalis shows jumps [[?]] in variation, like Laburnum and Orchis case--in fact hostile cases. Variability of sexual characters alike in domestic and wild.

Although the amount of variation be exceedingly small in most organic beings in a state of nature, and probably quite wanting (as far as our senses serve) in the majority of cases; yet considering how many animals and plants, taken by mankind from different quarters of the world for the most diverse purposes, have varied under domestication in every country and in every age, I think we may safely conclude that all organic beings with few exceptions, if capable of being domesticated and bred for long periods, would vary. Domestication seems to resolve itself into a change from the natural conditions of the species [generally perhaps including an increase of food]; if this be so, organisms in a state of nature must occasionally, in the course of ages, be exposed to analogous influences; for geology clearly shows that many places must, in the course of time, become exposed to the widest range of climatic and other influences; and if such places be isolated, so that new and better adapted organic beings cannot freely emigrate, the old inhabitants will be exposed to new influences, probably far more varied, than man applies under the form of domestication. Although every species no doubt will soon breed up to the full number which the country will support, yet it is easy to conceive that, on an average, some species may receive an increase of food; for the times of dearth may be short, yet enough to kill, and recurrent only at long intervals. All such changes of conditions from geological causes would be exceedingly slow; what effect the slowness might have we are ignorant; under domestication it appears that the effects of change of conditions accumulate, and then break out. Whatever might be the result of these slow geological changes, we may feel sure, from the means of dissemination common in a lesser or greater degree to every organism taken conjointly with the changes of geology, which are steadily (and sometimes suddenly, as when an isthmus at last separates) in progress, that occasionally organisms must suddenly be introduced into new regions, where, if the conditions of existence are not so foreign as to cause its extermination, it will often be propagated under circumstances still more closely analogous to those of domestication; and therefore we expect will evince a tendency to vary. It appears to me quite inexplicable if this has never happened; but it can happen very rarely. Let us then suppose that an organism by some chance (which might be hardly repeated in 1000 years) arrives at a modern volcanic island in process of formation and not fully stocked with the most appropriate organisms; the new organism might readily gain a footing, although the external conditions were considerably different from its native ones. The effect of this we might expect would influence in some small degree the size, colour, nature of covering &c., and from inexplicable influences even special parts and organs of the body. But we might further (and [[this]] is far more important) expect that the reproductive system would be affected, as under domesticity, and the structure of the offspring rendered in some degree plastic. Hence almost every part of the body would tend to vary from the typical form in slight degrees, and in no determinate way, and therefore without selection the free crossing of these small variations (together with the tendency to reversion to the original form) would constantly be counteracting this unsettling effect of the extraneous conditions on the reproductive system. Such, I conceive, would be the unimportant result without selection. And here I must observe that the foregoing remarks are equally applicable to that small and admitted amount of variation which has been observed in some organisms in a state of nature; as well as to the above hypothetical variation consequent on changes of condition.

Let us now suppose a Being[224] with penetration sufficient to perceive differences in the outer and innermost organization quite imperceptible to man, and with forethought extending over future centuries to watch with unerring care and select for any object the offspring of an organism produced under the foregoing circumstances; I can see no conceivable reason why he could not form a new race (or several were he to separate the stock of the original organism and work on several islands) adapted to new ends. As we assume his discrimination, and his forethought, and his steadiness of object, to be incomparably greater that those qualities in man, so we may suppose the beauty and complications of the adaptations of the new races and their differences from the original stock to be greater than in the domestic races produced by man's agency: the ground-work of his labours we may aid by supposing that the external conditions of the volcanic island, from its continued emergence and the occasional introduction of new immigrants, vary; and thus to act on the reproductive system of the organism, on which he is at work, and so keep its organization somewhat plastic. With time enough, such a Being might rationally (without some unknown law opposed him) aim at almost any result.

[224] A corresponding passage occurs in Origin, Ed. i. p. 83, vi. p. 101, where however Nature takes the place of the selecting Being.

For instance, let this imaginary Being wish, from seeing a plant growing on the decaying matter in a forest and choked by other plants, to give it power of growing on the rotten stems of trees, he would commence selecting every seedling whose berries were in the smallest degree more attractive to tree-frequenting birds, so as to cause a proper dissemination of the seeds, and at the same time he would select those plants which had in the slightest degree more and more power of drawing nutriment from rotten wood; and he would destroy all other seedlings with less of this power. He might thus, in the course of century after century, hope to make the plant by degrees grow on rotten wood, even high up on trees, wherever birds dropped the non-digested seeds. He might then, if the organization of the plant was plastic, attempt by continued selection of chance seedlings to make it grow on less and less rotten wood, till it would grow on sound wood[225]. Supposing again, during these changes the plant failed to seed quite freely from non-impregnation, he might begin selecting seedlings with a little sweeter [[or]] differently tasted honey or pollen, to tempt insects to visit the flowers regularly: having effected this, he might wish, if it profited the plant, to render abortive the stamens and pistils in different flowers, which he could do by continued selection. By such steps he might aim at making a plant as wonderfully related to other organic beings as is the mistletoe, whose existence absolutely depends on certain insects for impregnation, certain birds for transportal, and certain trees for growth. Furthermore, if the insect which had been induced regularly to visit this hypothetical plant profited much by it, our same Being might wish by selection to modify by gradual selection the insect's structure, so as to facilitate its obtaining the honey or pollen: in this manner he might adapt the insect (always presupposing its organization to be in some degree plastic) to the flower, and the impregnation of the flower to the insect; as is the case with many bees and many plants.

[225] The mistletoe is used as an illustration in Origin, Ed. i. p. 3, vi. p. 3, but with less detail.

Seeing what blind capricious man has actually effected by selection during the few last years, and what in a ruder state he has probably effected without any systematic plan during the last few thousand years, he will be a bold person who will positively put limits to what the supposed Being could effect during whole geological periods. In accordance with the plan by which this universe seems governed by the Creator, let us consider whether there exists any secondary means in the economy of nature by which the process of selection could go on adapting, nicely and wonderfully, organisms, if in ever so small a degree plastic, to diverse ends. I believe such secondary means do exist[226].

[226] [[Note in original.]] The selection, in cases where adult lives only few hours as Ephemera, must fall on larva--curious speculation of the effect [[which]] changes in it would bring in parent.



Natural means of Selection[227].

[227] This section forms part of the joint paper by Darwin and Wallace read before the Linnean Society on July 1, 1858.

De Candolle, in an eloquent passage, has declared that all nature is at war, one organism with another, or with external nature. Seeing the contented face of nature, this may at first be well doubted; but reflection will inevitably prove it is too true. The war, however, is not constant, but only recurrent in a slight degree at short periods and more severely at occasional more distant periods; and hence its effects are easily overlooked. It is the doctrine of Malthus applied in most cases with ten-fold force. As in every climate there are seasons for each of its inhabitants of greater and less abundance, so all annually breed; and the moral restraint, which in some small degree checks the increase of mankind, is entirely lost. Even slow-breeding mankind has doubled in 25 years[228], and if he could increase his food with greater ease, he would double in less time. But for animals, without artificial means, on an average the amount of food for each species must be constant; whereas the increase of all organisms tends to be geometrical, and in a vast majority of cases at an enormous ratio. Suppose in a certain spot there are eight pairs of [robins] birds, and that only four pairs of them annually (including double hatches) rear only four young; and that these go on rearing their young at the same rate: then at the end of seven years (a short life, excluding violent deaths, for any birds) there will be 2048 robins, instead of the original sixteen; as this increase is quite impossible, so we must conclude either that robins do not rear nearly half their young or that the average life of a robin when reared is from accident not nearly seven years. Both checks probably concur. The same kind of calculation applied to all vegetables and animals produces results either more or less striking, but in scarcely a single instance less striking than in man[229].

[228] Occurs in Origin, Ed. i. p. 64, vi. p. 79.

[229] Corresponds approximately with Origin, Ed. i. pp. 64-65, vi. p. 80.

Many practical illustrations of this rapid tendency to increase are on record, namely during peculiar seasons, in the extraordinary increase of certain animals, for instance during the years 1826 to 1828, in La Plata, when from drought, some millions of cattle perished, the whole country swarmed with innumerable mice: now I think it cannot be doubted that during the breeding season all the mice (with the exception of a few males or females in excess) ordinarily pair; and therefore that this astounding increase during three years must be attributed to a greater than usual number surviving the first year, and then breeding, and so on, till the third year, when their numbers were brought down to their usual limits on the return of wet weather. Where man has introduced plants and animals into a new country favourable to them, there are many accounts in how surprisingly few years the whole country has become stocked with them. This increase would necessarily stop as soon as the country was fully stocked; and yet we have every reason to believe from what is known of wild animals that all would pair in the spring. In the majority of cases it is most difficult to imagine where the check falls, generally no doubt on the seeds, eggs, and young; but when we remember how impossible even in mankind (so much better known than any other animal) it is to infer from repeated casual observations what the average of life is, or to discover how different the percentage of deaths to the births in different countries, we ought to feel no legitimate surprise at not seeing where the check falls in animals and plants. It should always be remembered that in most cases the checks are yearly recurrent in a small regular degree, and in an extreme degree during occasionally unusually cold, hot, dry, or wet years, according to the constitution of the being in question. Lighten any check in the smallest degree, and the geometrical power of increase in every organism will instantly increase the average numbers of the favoured species. Nature may be compared to a surface, on which rest ten thousand sharp wedges touching each other and driven inwards by incessant blows[230]. Fully to realise these views much reflection is requisite; Malthus on man should be studied; and all such cases as those of the mice in La Plata, of the cattle and horses when first turned out in S. America, of the robins by our calculation, &c., should be well considered: reflect on the enormous multiplying power inherent and annually in action in all animals; reflect on the countless seeds scattered by a hundred ingenious contrivances, year after year, over the whole face of the land; and yet we have every reason to suppose that the average percentage of every one of the inhabitants of a country will ordinarily remain constant. Finally, let it be borne in mind that this average number of individuals (the external conditions remaining the same) in each country is kept up by recurrent struggles against other species or against external nature (as on the borders of the arctic regions[231], where the cold checks life); and that ordinarily each individual of each species holds its place, either by its own struggle and capacity of acquiring nourishment in some period (from the egg upwards) of its life, or by the struggle of its parents (in short lived organisms, when the main check occurs at long intervals) against and compared with other individuals of the same or different species.

[230] This simile occurs in Origin, Ed. i. p. 67, not in the later editions.

[231] [[Note in the original.]] In case like mistletoe, it may be asked why not more species, no other species interferes; answer almost sufficient, same causes which check the multiplication of individuals.

But let the external conditions of a country change; if in a small degree, the relative proportions of the inhabitants will in most cases simply be slightly changed; but let the number of inhabitants be small, as in an island[232], and free access to it from other countries be circumscribed; and let the change of condition continue progressing (forming new stations); in such case the original inhabitants must cease to be so perfectly adapted to the changed conditions as they originally were. It has been shown that probably such changes of external conditions would, from acting on the reproductive system, cause the organization of the beings most affected to become, as under domestication, plastic. Now can it be doubted from the struggle each individual (or its parents) has to obtain subsistence that any minute variation in structure, habits, or instincts, adapting that individual better to the new conditions, would tell upon its vigour and health? In the struggle it would have a better chance of surviving, and those of its offspring which inherited the variation, let it be ever so slight, would have a better chance to survive. Yearly more are bred than can survive; the smallest grain in the balance, in the long run, must tell on which death shall fall, and which shall survive[233]. Let this work of selection, on the one hand, and death on the other, go on for a thousand generations; who would pretend to affirm that it would produce no effect, when we remember what in a few years Bakewell effected in cattle and Western in sheep, by this identical principle of selection.

[232] See Origin, Ed. i. pp. 104, 292, vi. pp. 127, 429.

[233] Recognition of the importance of minute differences in the struggle occurs in the Essay of 1842, p. 8 note 3.[Note 59]

To give an imaginary example, from changes in progress on an island, let the organization[234] of a canine animal become slightly plastic, which animal preyed chiefly on rabbits, but sometimes on hares; let these same changes cause the number of rabbits very slowly to decrease and the number of hares to increase; the effect of this would be that the fox or dog would be driven to try to catch more hares, and his numbers would tend to decrease; his organization, however, being slightly plastic, those individuals with the lightest forms, longest limbs, and best eye-sight (though perhaps with less cunning or scent) would be slightly favoured, let the difference be ever so small, and would tend to live longer and to survive during that time of the year when food was shortest; they would also rear more young, which young would tend to inherit these slight peculiarities. The less fleet ones would be rigidly destroyed. I can see no more reason to doubt but that these causes in a thousand generations would produce a marked effect, and adapt the form of the fox to catching hares instead of rabbits, than that greyhounds can be improved by selection and careful breeding. So would it be with plants under similar circumstances; if the number of individuals of a species with plumed seeds could be increased by greater powers of dissemination within its own area (that is if the check to increase fell chiefly on the seeds), those seeds which were provided with ever so little more down, or with a plume placed so as to be slightly more acted on by the winds, would in the long run tend to be most disseminated; and hence a greater number of seeds thus formed would germinate, and would tend to produce plants inheriting this slightly better adapted down.

[234] See Origin, Ed. i. p. 90, vi. p. 110.

Besides this natural means of selection, by which those individuals are preserved, whether in their egg or seed or in their mature state, which are best adapted to the place they fill in nature, there is a second agency at work in most bisexual animals tending to produce the same effect, namely the struggle of the males for the females. These struggles are generally decided by the law of battle; but in the case of birds, apparently, by the charms of their song[235], by their beauty or their power of courtship, as in the dancing rock-thrush of Guiana. Even in the animals which pair there seems to be an excess of males which would aid in causing a struggle: in the polygamous animals[236], however, as in deer, oxen, poultry, we might expect there would be severest struggle: is it not in the polygamous animals that the males are best formed for mutual war? The most vigorous males, implying perfect adaptation, must generally gain the victory in their several contests. This kind of selection, however, is less rigorous than the other; it does not require the death of the less successful, but gives to them fewer descendants. This struggle falls, moreover, at a time of year when food is generally abundant, and perhaps the effect chiefly produced would be the alteration of sexual characters, and the selection of individual forms, no way related to their power of obtaining food, or of defending themselves from their natural enemies, but of fighting one with another. This natural struggle amongst the males may be compared in effect, but in a less degree, to that produced by those agriculturalists who pay less attention to the careful selection of all the young animals which they breed and more to the occasional use of a choice male[237].

[235] These two forms of sexual selection are given in Origin, Ed. i. p. 87, vi. p. 107. The Guiana rock-thrush is given as an example of bloodless competition.

[236] [[Note in original.]] Seals? Pennant about battles of seals.

[237] In the Linnean paper of July 1, 1858 the final word is mate: but the context shows that it should be male; it is moreover clearly so written in the MS.



Differences between "Races" and "Species":--first, in their trueness or variability.

Races[238] produced by these natural means of selection[239] we may expect would differ in some respects from those produced by man. Man selects chiefly by the eye, and is not able to perceive the course of every vessel and nerve, or the form of the bones, or whether the internal structure corresponds to the outside shape. He[240] is unable to select shades of constitutional differences, and by the protection he affords and his endeavours to keep his property alive, in whatever country he lives, he checks, as much as lies in his power, the selecting action of nature, which will, however, go on to a lesser degree with all living things, even if their length of life is not determined by their own powers of endurance. He has bad judgment, is capricious, he does not, or his successors do not, wish to select for the same exact end for hundreds of generations. He cannot always suit the selected form to the properest conditions; nor does he keep those conditions uniform: he selects that which is useful to him, not that best adapted to those conditions in which each variety is placed by him: he selects a small dog, but feeds it highly; he selects a long-backed dog, but does not exercise it in any peculiar manner, at least not during every generation. He seldom allows the most vigorous males to struggle for themselves and propagate, but picks out such as he possesses, or such as he prefers, and not necessarily those best adapted to the existing conditions. Every agriculturalist and breeder knows how difficult it is to prevent an occasional cross with another breed. He often grudges to destroy an individual which departs considerably from the required type. He often begins his selection by a form or sport considerably departing from the parent form. Very differently does the natural law of selection act; the varieties selected differ only slightly from the parent forms[241]; the conditions are constant for long periods and change slowly; rarely can there be a cross; the selection is rigid and unfailing, and continued through many generations; a selection can never be made without the form be better adapted to the conditions than the parent form; the selecting power goes on without caprice, and steadily for thousands of years adapting the form to these conditions. The selecting power is not deceived by external appearances, it tries the being during its whole life; and if less well [[?]] adapted than its congeners, without fail it is destroyed; every part of its structure is thus scrutinised and proved good towards the place in nature which it occupies.

[238] In the Origin the author would here have used the word variety.

[239] The whole of p. 94 and 15 lines of p. 95 are, in the MS., marked through in pencil with vertical lines, beginning at "Races produced, &c." and ending with "to these conditions."

[240] See Origin, Ed. i. p. 83, vi. p. 102.

[241] In the present Essay there is some evidence that the author attributed more to sports than was afterwards the case: but the above passage points the other way. It must always be remembered that many of the minute differences, now considered small mutations, are the small variations on which Darwin conceived selection to act.

We have every reason to believe that in proportion to the number of generations that a domestic race is kept free from crosses, and to the care employed in continued steady selection with one end in view, and to the care in not placing the variety in conditions unsuited to it; in such proportion does the new race become "true" or subject to little variation[242]. How incomparably "truer" then would a race produced by the above rigid, steady, natural means of selection, excellently trained and perfectly adapted to its conditions, free from stains of blood or crosses, and continued during thousands of years, be compared with one produced by the feeble, capricious, misdirected and ill-adapted selection of man. Those races of domestic animals produced by savages, partly by the inevitable conditions of their life, and partly unintentionally by their greater care of the individuals most valuable to them, would probably approach closest to the character of a species; and I believe this is the case. Now the characteristic mark of a species, next, if not equal in importance to its sterility when crossed with another species, and indeed almost the only other character (without we beg the question and affirm the essence of a species, is its not having descended from a parent common to any other form), is the similarity of the individuals composing the species, or in the language of agriculturalists their "trueness."

[242] See Var. under Dom., Ed. ii. vol. II. p. 230.



Difference between "Races" and "Species" in fertility when crossed.

The sterility of species, or of their offspring, when crossed has, however, received more attention than the uniformity in character of the individuals composing the species. It is exceedingly natural that such sterility[243] should have been long thought the certain characteristic of species. For it is obvious that if the allied different forms which we meet with in the same country could cross together, instead of finding a number of distinct species, we should have a confused and blending series. The fact however of a perfect gradation in the degree of sterility between species, and the circumstance of some species most closely allied (for instance many species of crocus and European heaths) refusing to breed together, whereas other species, widely different, and even belonging to distinct genera, as the fowl and the peacock, pheasant and grouse[244], Azalea and Rhododendron, Thuja and Juniperus, breeding together ought to have caused a doubt whether the sterility did not depend on other causes, distinct from a law, coincident with their creation. I may here remark that the fact whether one species will or will not breed with another is far less important than the sterility of the offspring when produced; for even some domestic races differ so greatly in size (as the great stag-greyhound and lap-dog, or cart-horse and Burmese ponies) that union is nearly impossible; and what is less generally known is, that in plants Kölreuter has shown by hundreds of experiments that the pollen of one species will fecundate the germen of another species, whereas the pollen of this latter will never act on the germen of the former; so that the simple fact of mutual impregnation certainly has no relation whatever to the distinctness in creation of the two forms. When two species are attempted to be crossed which are so distantly allied that offspring are never produced, it has been observed in some cases that the pollen commences its proper action by exserting its tube, and the germen commences swelling, though soon afterwards it decays. In the next stage in the series, hybrid offspring are produced though only rarely and few in number, and these are absolutely sterile: then we have hybrid offspring more numerous, and occasionally, though very rarely, breeding with either parent, as is the case with the common mule. Again, other hybrids, though infertile inter se, will breed quite freely with either parent, or with a third species, and will yield offspring generally infertile, but sometimes fertile; and these latter again will breed with either parent, or with a third or fourth species: thus Kölreuter blended together many forms. Lastly it is now admitted by those botanists who have longest contended against the admission, that in certain families the hybrid offspring of many of the species are sometimes perfectly fertile in the first generation when bred together: indeed in some few cases Mr Herbert[245] found that the hybrids were decidedly more fertile than either of their pure parents. There is no way to escape from the admission that the hybrids from some species of plants are fertile, except by declaring that no form shall be considered as a species, if it produces with another species fertile offspring: but this is begging the question[246]. It has often been stated that different species of animals have a sexual repugnance towards each other; I can find no evidence of this; it appears as if they merely did not excite each others passions. I do not believe that in this respect there is any essential distinction between animals and plants; and in the latter there cannot be a feeling of repugnance.

[243] [[Note in the original.]] If domestic animals are descended from several species and become fertile inter se, then one can see they gain fertility by becoming adapted to new conditions and certainly domestic animals can withstand changes of climate without loss of fertility in an astonishing manner.

[244] See Suchetet, L'Hybridité dans la Nature, Bruxelles, 1888, p. 67. In Var. under Dom., Ed. ii. vol. II. hybrids between the fowl and the pheasant are mentioned. I can give no information on the other cases.

[245] Origin, Ed. i. p. 250, vi. p. 370.

[246] This was the position of Gärtner and of Kölreuter: see Origin, Ed. i. pp. 246-7, vi. pp. 367-8.



Causes of Sterility in Hybrids.

The difference in nature between species which causes the greater or lesser degree of sterility in their offspring appears, according to Herbert and Kölreuter, to be connected much less with external form, size, or structure, than with constitutional peculiarities; by which is meant their adaptation to different climates, food and situation, &c.: these peculiarities of constitution probably affect the entire frame, and no one part in particular[247].

[247] [[Note in the original.]] Yet this seems introductory to the case of the heaths and crocuses above mentioned. [[Herbert observed that crocus does not set seed if transplanted before pollination, but that such treatment after pollination has no sterilising effect. (Var. under Dom., Ed. ii. vol. II. p. 148.) On the same page is a mention of the Ericaceæ being subject to contabescence of the anthers. For Crinum see Origin, Ed. i. p. 250: for Rhododenron and Calceolaria see p. 251.]]

From the foregoing facts I think we must admit that there exists a perfect gradation in fertility between species which when crossed are quite fertile (as in Rhododendron, Calceolaria, &c.), and indeed in an extraordinary degree fertile (as in Crinum), and those species which never produce offspring, but which by certain effects (as the exsertion of the pollen-tube) evince their alliance. Hence, I conceive, we must give up sterility, although undoubtedly in a lesser or greater degree of very frequent occurrence, as an unfailing mark by which species can be distinguished from races, i.e. from those forms which have descended from a common stock.



Infertility from causes distinct from hybridisation.

Let us see whether there are any analogous facts which will throw any light on this subject, and will tend to explain why the offspring of certain species, when crossed, should be sterile, and not others, without requiring a distinct law connected with their creation to that effect. Great numbers, probably a large majority of animals when caught by man and removed from their natural conditions, although taken very young, rendered quite tame, living to a good old age, and apparently quite healthy, seem incapable under these circumstances of breeding[248]. I do not refer to animals kept in menageries, such as at the Zoological Gardens, many of which, however, appear healthy and live long and unite but do not produce; but to animals caught and left partly at liberty in their native country. Rengger[249] enumerates several caught young and rendered tame, which he kept in Paraguay, and which would not breed: the hunting leopard or cheetah and elephant offer other instances; as do bears in Europe, and the 25 species of hawks, belonging to different genera, thousands of which have been kept for hawking and have lived for long periods in perfect vigour. When the expense and trouble of procuring a succession of young animals in a wild state be borne in mind, one may feel sure that no trouble has been spared in endeavours to make them breed. So clearly marked is this difference in different kinds of animals, when captured by man, that St Hilaire makes two great classes of animals useful to man:--the tame, which will not breed, and the domestic which will breed in domestication. From certain singular facts we might have supposed that the non-breeding of animals was owing to some perversion of instinct. But we meet with exactly the same class of facts in plants: I do not refer to the large number of cases where the climate does not permit the seed or fruit to ripen, but where the flowers do not "set," owing to some imperfection of the ovule or pollen. The latter, which alone can be distinctly examined, is often manifestly imperfect, as any one with a microscope can observe by comparing the pollen of the Persian and Chinese lilacs[250] with the common lilac; the two former species (I may add) are equally sterile in Italy as in this country. Many of the American bog plants here produce little or no pollen, whilst the Indian species of the same genera freely produce it. Lindley observes that sterility is the bane of the horticulturist[251]: Linnæus has remarked on the sterility of nearly all alpine flowers when cultivated in a lowland district[252]. Perhaps the immense class of double flowers chiefly owe their structure to an excess of food acting on parts rendered slightly sterile and less capable of performing their true function, and therefore liable to be rendered monstrous, which monstrosity, like any other disease, is inherited and rendered common. So far from domestication being in itself unfavourable to fertility, it is well known that when an organism is once capable of submission to such conditions [[its]] fertility is increased[253] beyond the natural limit. According to agriculturists, slight changes of conditions, that is of food or habitation, and likewise crosses with races slightly different, increase the vigour and probably the fertility of their offspring. It would appear also that even a great change of condition, for instance, transportal from temperate countries to India, in many cases does not in the least affect fertility, although it does health and length of life and the period of maturity. When sterility is induced by domestication it is of the same kind, and varies in degree, exactly as with hybrids: for be it remembered that the most sterile hybrid is no way monstrous; its organs are perfect, but they do not act, and minute microscopical investigations show that they are in the same state as those of pure species in the intervals of the breeding season. The defective pollen in the cases above alluded to precisely resembles that of hybrids. The occasional breeding of hybrids, as of the common mule, may be aptly compared to the most rare but occasional reproduction of elephants in captivity. The cause of many exotic Geraniums producing (although in vigorous health) imperfect pollen seems to be connected with the period when water is given them[254]; but in the far greater majority of cases we cannot form any conjecture on what exact cause the sterility of organisms taken from their natural conditions depends. Why, for instance, the cheetah will not breed whilst the common cat and ferret (the latter generally kept shut up in a small box) do,--why the elephant will not whilst the pig will abundantly--why the partridge and grouse in their own country will not, whilst several species of pheasants, the guinea-fowl from the deserts of Africa and the peacock from the jungles of India, will. We must, however, feel convinced that it depends on some constitutional peculiarities in these beings not suited to their new condition; though not necessarily causing an ill state of health. Ought we then to wonder much that those hybrids which have been produced by the crossing of species with different constitutional tendencies (which tendencies we know to be eminently inheritable) should be sterile: it does not seem improbable that the cross from an alpine and lowland plant should have its constitutional powers deranged, in nearly the same manner as when the parent alpine plant is brought into a lowland district. Analogy, however, is a deceitful guide, and it would be rash to affirm, although it may appear probable, that the sterility of hybrids is due to the constitutional peculiarities of one parent being disturbed by being blended with those of the other parent in exactly the same manner as it is caused in some organic beings when placed by man out of their natural conditions[255]. Although this would be rash, it would, I think, be still rasher, seeing that sterility is no more incidental to all cross-bred productions than it is to all organic beings when captured by man, to assert that the sterility of certain hybrids proved a distinct creation of their parents.

[248] [[Note in original.]] Animals seem more often made sterile by being taken out of their native condition than plants, and so are more sterile when crossed.

We have one broad fact that sterility in hybrids is not closely related to external difference, and these are what man alone gets by selection.

[249] See Var. under Dom., Ed. ii. vol. II. p. 132; for the case of the cheetah see loc cit. p. 133.

[250] Var. under Dom., Ed. ii. vol. II. p. 148.

[251] Quoted in the Origin, Ed. i. p. 9.

[252] See Var. under Dom., Ed. ii. vol. II. p. 147.

[253] Var. under Dom., Ed. ii. vol. II. p. 89.

[254] See Var. under Dom., Ed. ii. vol. II. p. 147.

[255] Origin, Ed. i. p. 267, vi. p. 392. This is the principle experimentally investigated in the author's Cross-and Self-Fertilisation.

But it may be objected[256] (however little the sterility of certain hybrids is connected with the distinct creations of species), how comes it, if species are only races produced by natural selection, that when crossed they so frequently produce sterile offspring, whereas in the offspring of those races confessedly produced by the arts of man there is no one instance of sterility. There is not much difficulty in this, for the races produced by the natural means above explained will be slowly but steadily selected; will be adapted to various and diverse conditions, and to these conditions they will be rigidly confined for immense periods of time; hence we may suppose that they would acquire different constitutional peculiarities adapted to the stations they occupy; and on the constitutional differences between species their sterility, according to the best authorities, depends. On the other hand man selects by external appearance[257]; from his ignorance, and from not having any test at least comparable in delicacy to the natural struggle for food, continued at intervals through the life of each individual, he cannot eliminate fine shades of constitution, dependent on invisible differences in the fluids or solids of the body; again, from the value which he attaches to each individual, he asserts his utmost power in contravening the natural tendency of the most vigorous to survive. Man, moreover, especially in the earlier ages, cannot have kept his conditions of life constant, and in later ages his stock pure. Until man selects two varieties from the same stock, adapted to two climates or to other different external conditions, and confines each rigidly for one or several thousand years to such conditions, always selecting the individuals best adapted to them, he cannot be said to have even commenced the experiment. Moreover, the organic beings which man has longest had under domestication have been those which were of the greatest use to him, and one chief element of their usefulness, especially in the earlier ages, must have been their capacity to undergo sudden transportals into various climates, and at the same time to retain their fertility, which in itself implies that in such respects their constitutional peculiarities were not closely limited. If the opinion already mentioned be correct, that most of the domestic animals in their present state have descended from the fertile commixture of wild races or species, we have indeed little reason now to expect infertility between any cross of stock thus descended.

[256] Origin, Ed. i. p. 268, vi. p. 398.

[257] [[Notes in original.]] Mere difference of structure no guide to what will or will not cross. First step gained by races keeping apart. [[It is not clear where these notes were meant to go.]]

It is worthy of remark, that as many organic beings, when taken by man out of their natural conditions, have their reproductive system [[so]] affected as to be incapable of propagation, so, we saw in the first chapter, that although organic beings when taken by man do propagate freely, their offspring after some generations vary or sport to a degree which can only be explained by their reproductive system being [[in]] some way affected. Again, when species cross, their offspring are generally sterile; but it was found by Kölreuter that when hybrids are capable of breeding with either parent, or with other species, that their offspring are subject after some generations to excessive variation[258]. Agriculturists, also, affirm that the offspring from mongrels, after the first generation, vary much. Hence we see that both sterility and variation in the succeeding generations are consequent both on the removal of individual species from their natural states and on species crossing. The connection between these facts may be accidental, but they certainly appear to elucidate and support each other,--on the principle of the reproductive system of all organic beings being eminently sensitive to any disturbance, whether from removal or commixture, in their constitutional relations to the conditions to which they are exposed.

[258] Origin, Ed. i. p. 272, vi. p. 404.



Points of Resemblance between "Races" and "Species[259]." [259] This section seems not to correspond closely with any in the Origin, Ed. i.; in some points it resembles pp. 15, 16, also the section on analogous variation in distinct species, Origin, Ed. i. p. 159, vi. p. 194.

Races and reputed species agree in some respects, although differing from causes which, we have seen, we can in some degree understand, in the fertility and "trueness" of their offspring. In the first place, there is no clear sign by which to distinguish races from species, as is evident from the great difficulty experienced by naturalists in attempting to discriminate them. As far as external characters are concerned, many of the races which are descended from the same stock differ far more than true species of the same genus; look at the willow-wrens, some of which skilful ornithologists can hardly distinguish from each other except by their nests; look at the wild swans, and compare the distinct species of these genera with the races of domestic ducks, poultry, and pigeons; and so again with plants, compare the cabbages, almonds, peaches and nectarines, &c. with the species of many genera. St Hilaire has even remarked that there is a greater difference in size between races, as in dogs (for he believes all have descended from one stock), than between the species of any one genus; nor is this surprising, considering that amount of food and consequently of growth is the element of change over which man has most power. I may refer to a former statement, that breeders believe the growth of one part or strong action of one function causes a decrease in other parts; for this seems in some degree analogous to the law of "organic compensation[260]," which many naturalists believe holds good. To give an instance of this law of compensation,--those species of Carnivora which have the canine teeth greatly developed have certain molar teeth deficient; or again, in that division of the Crustaceans in which the tail is much developed, the thorax is little so, and the converse. The points of difference between different races is often strikingly analogous to that between species of the same genus: trifling spots or marks of colour[261] (as the bars on pigeons' wings) are often preserved in races of plants and animals, precisely in the same manner as similar trifling characters often pervade all the species of a genus, and even of a family. Flowers in varying their colours often become veined and spotted and the leaves become divided like true species: it is known that the varieties of the same plant never have red, blue and yellow flowers, though the hyacinth makes a very near approach to an exception[262]; and different species of the same genus seldom, though sometimes they have flowers of these three colours. Dun-coloured horses having a dark stripe down their backs, and certain domestic asses having transverse bars on their legs, afford striking examples of a variation analogous in character to the distinctive marks of other species of the same genus.

[260] The law of compensation is discussed in the Origin, Ed. i. p. 147, vi. p. 182.

[261] [[Note in original.]] Boitard and Corbié on outer edging red in tail of bird,--so bars on wing, white or black or brown, or white edged with black or [[illegible]]: analogous to marks running through genera but with different colours. Tail coloured in pigeons.

[262] [[Note in original.]] Oxalis and Gentian. [[In Gentians blue, yellow and reddish colours occur. In Oxalis yellow, purple, violet and pink.]]



External characters of Hybrids and Mongrels.

There is, however, as it appears to me, a more important method of comparison between species and races, namely the character of the offspring[263] when species are crossed and when races are crossed: I believe, in no one respect, except in sterility, is there any difference. It would, I think, be a marvellous fact, if species have been formed by distinct acts of creation, that they should act upon each other in uniting, like races descended from a common stock. In the first place, by repeated crossing one species can absorb and wholly obliterate the characters of another, or of several other species, in the same manner as one race will absorb by crossing another race. Marvellous, that one act of creation should absorb another or even several acts of creation! The offspring of species, that is hybrids, and the offspring of races, that is mongrels, resemble each other in being either intermediate in character (as is most frequent in hybrids) or in resembling sometimes closely one and sometimes the other parent; in both the offspring produced by the same act of conception sometimes differ in their degree of resemblance; both hybrids and mongrels sometimes retain a certain part or organ very like that of either parent, both, as we have seen, become in succeeding generations variable; and this tendency to vary can be transmitted by both; in both for many generations there is a strong tendency to reversion to their ancestral form. In the case of a hybrid laburnum and of a supposed mongrel vine different parts of the same plants took after each of their two parents. In the hybrids from some species, and in the mongrel of some races, the offspring differ according as which of the two species, or of the two races, is the father (as in the common mule and hinny) and which the mother. Some races will breed together, which differ so greatly in size, that the dam often perishes in labour; so it is with some species when crossed; when the dam of one species has borne offspring to the male of another species, her succeeding offspring are sometimes stained (as in Lord Morton's mare by the quagga, wonderful as the fact[264] is) by this first cross; so agriculturists positively affirm is the case when a pig or sheep of one breed has produced offspring by the sire of another breed.

[263] This section corresponds roughly to that on Hybrids and Mongrels compared independently of their fertility, Origin, Ed. i. p. 272, vi. p. 403. The discussion on Gärtner's views, given in the Origin, is here wanting. The brief mention of prepotency is common to them both.

[264] See Animals and Plants, Ed. ii. vol. I. p. 435. The phenomenon of Telegony, supposed to be established by this and similar cases, is now generally discredited in consequence of Ewart's experiments.



Summary of second chapter[265].

[265] The section on p. 109 is an appendix to the summary.

Let us sum up this second chapter. If slight variations do occur in organic beings in a state of nature; if changes of condition from geological causes do produce in the course of ages effects analogous to those of domestication on any, however few, organisms; and how can we doubt it,--from what is actually known, and from what may be presumed, since thousands of organisms taken by man for sundry uses, and placed in new conditions, have varied. If such variations tend to be hereditary; and how can we doubt it,--when we see shades of expression, peculiar manners, monstrosities of the strangest kinds, diseases, and a multitude of other peculiarities, which characterise and form, being inherited, the endless races (there are 1200 kinds of cabbages[266]) of our domestic plants and animals. If we admit that every organism maintains its place by an almost periodically recurrent struggle; and how can we doubt it,--when we know that all beings tend to increase in a geometrical ratio (as is instantly seen when the conditions become for a time more favourable); whereas on an average the amount of food must remain constant, if so, there will be a natural means of selection, tending to preserve those individuals with any slight deviations of structure more favourable to the then existing conditions, and tending to destroy any with deviations of an opposite nature. If the above propositions be correct, and there be no law of nature limiting the possible amount of variation, new races of beings will,--perhaps only rarely, and only in some few districts,--be formed.

[266] I do not know the authority for this statement.



Limits of Variation.

That a limit to variation does exist in nature is assumed by most authors, though I am unable to discover a single fact on which this belief is grounded[267]. One of the commonest statements is that plants do not become acclimatised; and I have even observed that kinds not raised by seed, but propagated by cuttings, &c., are instanced. A good instance has, however, been advanced in the case of kidney beans, which it is believed are now as tender as when first introduced. Even if we overlook the frequent introduction of seed from warmer countries, let me observe that as long as the seeds are gathered promiscuously from the bed, without continual observation and careful selection of those plants which have stood the climate best during their whole growth, the experiment of acclimatisation has hardly been begun. Are not all those plants and animals, of which we have the greatest number of races, the oldest domesticated? Considering the quite recent progress[268] of systematic agriculture and horticulture, is it not opposed to every fact, that we have exhausted the capacity of variation in our cattle and in our corn,--even if we have done so in some trivial points, as their fatness or kind of wool? Will any one say, that if horticulture continues to flourish during the next few centuries, that we shall not have numerous new kinds of the potato and Dahlia? But take two varieties of each of these plants, and adapt them to certain fixed conditions and prevent any cross for 5000 years, and then again vary their conditions; try many climates and situations; and who[269] will predict the number and degrees of difference which might arise from these stocks? I repeat that we know nothing of any limit to the possible amount of variation, and therefore to the number and differences of the races, which might be produced by the natural means of selection, so infinitely more efficient than the agency of man. Races thus produced would probably be very "true"; and if from having been adapted to different conditions of existence, they possessed different constitutions, if suddenly removed to some new station, they would perhaps be sterile and their offspring would perhaps be infertile. Such races would be undistinguishable from species. But is there any evidence that the species, which surround us on all sides, have been thus produced? This is a question which an examination of the economy of nature we might expect would answer either in the affirmative or negative[270].

[267] In the Origin no limit is placed to variation as far as I know.

[268] [[Note in original.]] History of pigeons shows increase of peculiarities during last years.

[269] Compare an obscure passage in the Essay of 1842, p. 14.

[270] [[Note in original.]] Certainly [[two pages in the MS.]] ought to be here introduced, viz., difficulty in forming such organ, as eye, by selection. [[In the Origin, Ed. i., a chapter on Difficulties on Theory follows that on Laws of Variation, and precedes that on Instinct: this was also the arrangement in the Essay of 1842; whereas in the present Essay Instinct follows Variation and precedes Difficulties.]]


Charles Darwin

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