« AnteriorContinuar »
on the sudden appearance of whole groups of Allied Species.—The abrupt manner in which whole groups of species suddenly appear in certain formations, has been urged by several paleontologists — for instance, by Agassiz, Pictet, and by none more forcibly than by Professor Sedgwick-as a fatal objection to the belief in the transmutation of species. If numerous species, belonging to the same genera or families, have really started into life all at once, the fact would be fatal to the theory of descent with slow modification through natural selection. For the development of a group of forms, all of which have descended from some one progenitor, must have been an extremely slow process ; and the progenitors must have lived long ages before their modified descendants. But we continually overrate the perfection of the geological record, and falsely infer, because certain genera or families have not been found beneath certain stage, that they did not exist before that stage. We continually forget how large the world is, compared with the area over which our geological formations have been carefully examined ; we forget that groups of species may elsewhere have long existed and have slowly multiplied before they invaded the ancient archipelagoes of Europe and of the United States. We do not make due allowance for the enormous intervals of time, which have probably elapsed between our consecutive formations, - longer perhaps in most cases than the time required for the accumulation of each formation. These intervals will have given time for the multiplication of species from some one or some few parentforms ; and in the succeeding formation such species will appear as if suddenly created.
I may here recall a remark formerly made, namely that it might require a long succession of ages to adapt an organism to some new and peculiar line of life, for instance to fly through the air; but that when this had been effected, and a few species had thus acquired a great advantage over other organisms, a comparatively short time would be necessary to produce many
forms, which would be able to spread rapidly and widely throughout the world.
I will now give a few examples to illustrate these remarks, and to show how liable we are to error in supposing that whole groups of species have suddenly been produced. I may recall the well-known fact that in geological treatises, published not many years ago, the great class of mammals was always spoken of as having abruptly come in at the commencement of the tertiary series. And now one of the richest knowu accumulations of fossil mammals, for its thickness, belongs to the middle of the secondary series; and one true mammal has been discovered in the new red sandstone at nearly the commencement of this great series. Cuvier used to urge that no monkey occurred in any tertiary stratum ; but now extinct species have been discovered in India, South America, and in Europe even as far back as the eocene stage. Had it not been for the rare accident of the preservation of footsteps in the new red sandstone of the United States, who would have ventured to suppose that, besides reptiles, no less than at least thirty kinds of birds, some of gigantic size, existed during that period? Not a fragment of bone has been discovered in these beds. Notwithstanding that the number of joints shown in the fossil impressions correspond with the number in the several toes of living birds' feet, some authors doubt whether the animals which left the impressions were really birds. Until quite recently these authors might have maintained, and some have maintained, that the whole class of birds came suddenly into existence during an early tertiary period ; but now we know, on the authority of Professor Owen (as may be seen in Lyell's Manual), that a bird certainly lived during the deposition of the upper greensand.
I may give another instance, which from having passed under my own eyes has much struck me. In a memoir on Fossil Sessile Cirripedes, I have stated that, from the number of existing and extinct tertiary
species ; from the extraordinary abundance of the individuals of many species all over the world, from the Arctic regions to the equator, inhabiting various zones of depths from the upper tidal limits to 50 fathoms ; from the perfect manner in which specimens are preserved in the oldest tertiary beds ; from the ease with which even a fragment of a valve can be recognised; from all these circumstances, I inferred that had sessile cirripedes existed during the secondary periods, they would certainly have been preserved and discovered; and as not one species had then been discovered in beds of this age, I concluded that this great group had been suddenly developed at the commencement of the tertiary series. This was a sore trouble to me, adding as I thought one more instance of the abrupt appearance of a great group of species. But my work had hardly been published, when a skilful palæontologist, M. Bosquet, sent me a drawing of a perfect specimen of an unmistakable sessile cirripede, which he had himself extracted from the chalk of Belgium. And, as if to make the case as striking as possible, this sessile cirripede was a Chthamalus, a very common, large, and ubiquitous genus, of which not one specimen has as yet been found even in any tertiary stratum. Hence we now positively know that sessile cirripedes existed during the secondary period; and these cirripedes might have been the progenitors of our many tertiary and existing species.
The case most frequently insisted on by palæontologists of the apparently sudden appearance of a whole group of species, is that of the teleostean fishes, low down in the Chalk period. This group includes the large majority of existing species. Lately, Professor Pictet has carried their existence one sub-stage further back; and some palæontologists believe that certain much older fishes, of which the affinities are as yet imperfectly known, are really teleostean. Assuming, however, that the whole of them did appear, as Agassiz believes, at the commencement of the chalk formation, the fact would certainly be highly remarkable ; but
I cannot see that it would be an insuperable difficulty on my theory, unless it could likewise be shown that the species of this group appeared suddenly and simultaneously throughout the world at this same period. It is almost superfluous to remark that hardly any fossil-fish are known from south of the equator; and by running through Pictet's Palæontology it will be seen that very few species are known from several formations in Europe. Some few families of fish now have a confined range; the teleostean fish might formerly have had a similarly confined range, and after having been largely developed in some one sea, might have spread widely: Nor have we any right to suppose that the seas of the world have always been so freely open from south to north as they are at present. Even at this day, if the Malay Archipelago were converted into land, the tropical parts of the Indian Ocean would form a large and perfectly enclosed basin, in which any great group of marine animals might be multiplied ; and here they would remain confined, until some of the species became adapted to a cooler climate, and were enabled to double the southern capes of Africa or Australia, and thus reach other and distant
From these and similar considerations, but chiefly from our ignorance of the geology of other countries beyond the confines of Europe and the United States ; and from the revolution in our palæontological ideas on many points, which the discoveries of even the last dozen years have effected, it seems to me to be about as rash in us to dogmatise on the succession of organic beings throughout the world, as it would be for a naturalist to land for five minutes on some one barren point in Australia, and then to discuss the number and range of its productions.
On the sudden appearance of groups of Allied Species in the lowest known fossiliferous strata.—There is another and allied difficulty, which is much graver. I allude to the manner in which numbers of species of the same
group, suddenly appear in the lowest known fossiliferous rocks. Most of the arguments which have convinced me that all the existing species of the same group have descended from one progenitor, apply with nearly equal force to the earliest known species. For instance, I cannot doubt that all the Silurian trilobites have descended from some one crustacean, which must have lived long before the Silurian age, and which probably differed greatly from any known animal. Some of the most ancient Silurian animals, as the Nautilus, Lingula, etc., do not differ much from living species ; and it cannot on my theory be supposed, that these old species were the progenitors of all the species of the orders to which they belong, for they do not present characters in any degree intermediate between them. If, moreover, they had been the progenitors of these orders, they would almost certainly have been long ago supplanted and exterminated by their numerous and improved descendants.
Consequently, if my theory be true, it is indisputable that before the lowest Silurian stratum was deposited, long periods elapsed, as long as, or probably far longer than, the whole interval from the Silurian age to the present day; and that during these vast, yet quite unknown, periods of time, the world swarmed with living creatures.
To the question why we do not find records of these vast primordial periods, I can give no satisfactory
Several of the most eminent geologists, with Sir R. Murchison at their head, are convinced that we see in the organic remains of the lowest Silurian stratum the dawn of life on this planet. Other highly competent judges, as Lyell and the late E. Forbes, dispute this conclusion. We should not forget that only a small portion of the world is known with accuracy. M. Barrande has lately added another and lower stage to the Silurian system, abounding with new and peculiar species. Traces of life have been detected in the Longmynd beds, beneath Barrande's 80-called primordial zone. The presence of phosphatic