Chapter XII. Geographical Distribution
Single centres of supposed creation
 

We are thus brought to the question which has been largely discussed by naturalists, namely, whether species have been created at one or more points of the earth's surface. Undoubtedly there are many cases of extreme difficulty in understanding how the same species could possibly have migrated from some one point to the several distant and isolated points, where now found. Nevertheless the simplicity of the view that each species was first produced within a single region captivates the mind. He who rejects it, rejects the vera causa of ordinary generation with subsequent migration, and calls in the agency of a miracle. It is universally admitted, that in most cases the area inhabited by a species is continuous; and that when a plant or animal inhabits two points so distant from each other, or with an interval of such a nature, that the space could not have been easily passed over by migration, the fact is given as something remarkable and exceptional. The incapacity of migrating across a wide sea is more clear in the case of terrestrial mammals than perhaps with any other organic beings; and, accordingly, we find no inexplicable instances of the same mammals inhabiting distant points of the world. No geologist feels any difficulty in Great Britain possessing the same quadrupeds with the rest of Europe, for they were no doubt once united. But if the same species can be produced at two separate points, why do we not find a single mammal common to Europe and Australia or South America? The conditions of life are nearly the same, so that a multitude of European animals and plants have become naturalised in America and Australia; and some of the aboriginal plants are identically the same at these distant points of the northern and southern hemispheres? The answer, as I believe, is, that mammals have not been able to migrate, whereas some plants, from their varied means of dispersal, have migrated across the wide and broken interspaces. The great and striking influence of barriers of all kinds, is intelligible only on the view that the great majority of species have been produced on one side, and have not been able to migrate to the opposite side. Some few families, many subfamilies, very many genera, a still greater number of sections of genera, are confined to a single region; and it has been observed by several naturalists that the most natural genera, or those genera in which the species are most closely related to each other, are generally confined to the same country, or if they have a wide range that their range is continuous. What a strange anomaly it would be if a directly opposite rule were to prevail when we go down one step lower in the series, namely to the individuals of the same species, and these had not been, at least at first, confined to some one region!

Hence, it seems to me, as it has to many other naturalists, that the view of each species having been produced in one area alone, and having subsequently migrated from that area as far as its powers of migration and subsistence under past and present conditions permitted, is the most probable. Undoubtedly many cases occur in which we cannot explain how the same species could have passed from one point to the other. But the geographical and climatical changes which have certainly occurred within recent geological times, must have rendered discontinuous the formerly continuous range of many species. So that we are reduced to consider whether the exceptions to continuity of range are so numerous, and of so grave a nature, that we ought to give up the belief, rendered probable by general considerations, that each species has been produced within one area, and has migrated thence as far as it could. It would be hopelessly tedious to discuss all the exceptional cases of the same species, now living at distant and separated points; nor do I for a moment pretend that any explanation could be offered of many instances. But, after some preliminary remarks, I will discuss a few of the most striking classes of facts, namely, the existence of the same species on the summits of distant mountain ranges, and at distant points in the Arctic and Antarctic regions; and secondly (in the following chapter), the wide distribution of fresh water productions; and thirdly, the occurrence of the same terrestrial species on islands and on the nearest mainland, though separated by hundreds of miles of open sea. If the existence of the same species at distant and isolated points of the earth's surface can in many instances be explained on the view of each species having migrated from a single birthplace; then, considering our ignorance with respect to former climatical and geographical changes, and to the various occasional means of transport, the belief that a single birthplace is the law seems to me incomparably the safest.

In discussing this subject we shall be enabled at the same time to consider a point equally important for us, namely, whether the several species of a genus which must on our theory all be descended from a common progenitor, can have migrated, undergoing modification during their migration from some one area. If, when most of the species inhabiting one region are different from those of another region, though closely allied to them, it can be shown that migration from the one region to the other has probably occurred at some former period, our general view will be much strengthened; for the explanation is obvious on the principle of descent with modification. A volcanic island, for instance, upheaved and formed at the distance of a few hundreds of miles from a continent, would probably receive from it in the course of time a few colonists, and their descendants, though modified, would still be related by inheritance to the inhabitants of that continent. Cases of this nature are common, and are, as we shall hereafter see, inexplicable on the theory of independent creation. This view of the relation of the species of one region to those of another, does not differ much from that advanced by Mr. Wallace, who concludes that "every species has come into existence coincident both in space and time with a pre-existing closely allied species." And it is now well known that he attributes this coincidence to descent with modification.

The question of single or multiple centres of creation differs from another though allied question, namely, whether all the individuals of the same species are descended from a single pair, or single hermaphrodite, or whether, as some authors suppose, from many individuals simultaneously created. With organic beings which never intercross, if such exist, each species, must be descended from a succession of modified varieties, that have supplanted each other, but have never blended with other individuals or varieties of the same species, so that, at each successive stage of modification, all the individuals of the same form will be descended from a single parent. But in the great majority of cases, namely, with all organisms which habitually unite for each birth, or which occasionally intercross, the individuals of the same species inhabiting the same area will be kept nearly uniform by intercrossing; so that many individuals will go on simultaneously changing, and the whole amount of modification at each stage will not be due to descent from a single parent. To illustrate what I mean: our English race-horses differ from the horses of every other breed; but they do not owe their difference and superiority to descent from any single pair, but to continued care in the selecting and training of many individuals during each generation.

Before discussing the three classes of facts, which I have selected as presenting the greatest amount of difficulty on the theory of "single centres of creation," I must say a few words on the means of dispersal.