The Origin of Species
Correlation of Growth
The Origin of Species
Chapter 5 - Laws of Variation
In the diagram, each horizontal line has hitherto been supposed to represent a thousand generations, but each may represent a million or hundred million generations, and likewise a section of the successive strata of the earth's crust including extinct remains. We shall, when we come to our chapter on Geology, have to refer again to this subject, and I think we shall then see that the diagram throws light on the affinities of extinct beings, which, though generally belonging to the same orders, or families, or genera, with those now living, yet are often, in some degree, intermediate in character between existing groups; and we can understand this fact, for the extinct species lived at very ancient epochs when the branching lines of descent had diverged less.}
No doubt it is a very surprising fact that characters should reappear after having been lost for many, perhaps for hundreds of generations. But when a breed has been crossed only once by some other breed, the offspring occasionally show a tendency to revert in character to the foreign breed for many generations some say, for a dozen or even a score of generations. After twelve generations, the proportion of blood, to use a common expression, of any one ancestor, is only 1 in 2048; and yet, as we see, it is generally believed that a tendency to reversion is retained by this very small proportion of foreign blood. In a breed which has not been crossed, but in which both parents have lost some character which their progenitor possessed, the tendency, whether strong or weak, to reproduce the lost character might be, as was formerly remarked, for all that we can see to the contrary, transmitted for almost any number of generations. When a character which has been lost in a breed, reappears after a great number of generations, the most probable hypothesis is, not that the offspring suddenly takes after an ancestor some hundred generations distant, but that in each successive generation there has been a tendency to reproduce the character in question, which at last, under unknown favourable conditions, gains an ascendancy. For instance, it is probable that in each generation of the barb-pigeon, which produces most rarely a blue and black-barred bird, there has been a tendency in each generation in the plumage to assume this colour. This view is hypothetical, but could be supported by some facts; and I can see no more abstract improbability in a tendency to produce any character being inherited for an endless number of generations, than in quite useless or rudimentary organs being, as we all know them to be, thus inherited. Indeed, we may sometimes observe a mere tendency to produce a rudiment inherited: for instance, in the common snapdragon (Antirrhinum) a rudiment of a fifth stamen so often appears, that this plant must have an inherited tendency to produce it.As all the species of the same genus are supposed, on my theory, to have descended from a common parent, it might be expected that they would occasionally vary in an analogous manner; so that a variety of one species would resemble in some of its characters another species; this other species being on my view only a well-marked and permanent variety. But characters thus gained would probably be of an unimportant nature, for the presence of all important characters will be governed by natural selection, in accordance with the diverse habits of the species, and will not be left to the mutual action of the conditions of life and of a similar inherited constitution. It might further be expected that the species of the same genus would occasionally exhibit reversions to lost ancestral characters. As, however, we never know the exact character of the common ancestor of a group, we could not distinguish these two cases: if, for instance, we did not know that the rock-pigeon was not feather-footed or turn-crowned, we could not have told, whether these characters in our domestic breeds were reversions or only analogous variations; but we might have inferred that the blueness was a case of reversion, from the number of the markings, which are correlated with the blue tint, and which it does not appear probable would all appear together from simple variation. More especially we might have inferred this, from the blue colour and marks so often appearing when distinct breeds of diverse colours are crossed. Hence, though under nature it must generally be left doubtful, what cases are reversions to an anciently existing character, and what are new but analogous variations, yet we ought, on my theory, sometimes to find the varying offspring of a species assuming characters (either from reversion or from analogous variation) which already occur in some members of the same group. And this undoubtedly is the case in nature.A considerable part of the difficulty in recognising a variable species in our systematic works, is due to its varieties mocking, as it were, come of the other species of the same genus. A considerable catalogue, also, could be given of forms intermediate between two other forms, which themselves must be doubtfully ranked as either varieties or species, that the one in varying has assumed some of the characters of the other, so as to produce the intermediate form. But the best evidence is afforded by parts or organs of an important and uniform nature occasionally varying so as to acquire, in some degree, the character of the same part or organ in an allied species. I have collected a long list of such cases; but here, as before, I lie under a great disadvantage in not being able to give them. I can only repeat that such cases certainly do occur, and seem to me very remarkable.
Youatt gives an excellent illustration of the effects of a course of selection, which may be considered as unconsciously followed, in so far that the breeders could never have expected or even have wished to have produced the result which ensued namely, the production of two distinct strains. The two flocks of Leicester sheep kept by Mr Buckley and Mr Burgess, as Mr Youatt remarks, 'have been purely bred from the original stock of Mr Bakewell for upwards of fifty years. There is not a suspicion existing in the mind of any one at all acquainted with the subject that the owner of either of them has deviated in any one instance from the pure blood of Mr Bakewell's flock, and yet the difference between the sheep possessed by these two gentlemen is so great that they have the appearance of being quite different varieties.'
In man's methodical selection, a breeder selects for some definite object, and free intercrossing will wholly stop his work. But when many men, without intending to alter the breed, have a nearly common standard of perfection, and all try to get and breed from the best animals, much improvement and modification surely but slowly follow from this unconscious process of selection, notwithstanding a large amount of crossing with inferior animals. Thus it will be in nature; for within a confined area, with some place in its polity not so perfectly occupied as might be, natural selection will always tend to preserve all the individuals varying in the right direction, though in different degrees, so as better to fill up the unoccupied place. But if the area be large, its several districts will almost certainly present different conditions of life; and then if natural selection be modifying and improving a species in the several districts, there will be intercrossing with the other individuals of the same species on the confines of each. And in this case the effects of intercrossing can hardly be counterbalanced by natural selection always tending to modify all the individuals in each district in exactly the same manner to the conditions of each; for in a continuous area, the conditions will generally graduate away insensibly from one district to another. The intercrossing will most affect those animals which unite for each birth, which wander much, and which do not breed at a very quick rate. Hence in animals of this nature, for instance in birds, varieties will generally be confined to separated countries; and this I believe to be the case. In hermaphrodite organisms which cross only occasionally, and likewise in animals which unite for each birth, but which wander little and which can increase at a very rapid rate, a new and improved variety might be quickly formed on any one spot, and might there maintain itself in a body, so that whatever intercrossing took place would be chiefly between the individuals of the same new variety. A local variety when once thus formed might subsequently slowly spread to other districts. On the above principle, nurserymen always prefer getting seed from a large body of plants of the same variety, as the chance of intercrossing with other varieties is thus lessened.Even in the case of slow-breeding animals, which unite for each birth, we must not overrate the effects of intercrosses in retarding natural selection; for I can bring a considerable catalogue of facts, showing that within the same area, varieties of the same animal can long remain distinct, from haunting different stations, from breeding at slightly different seasons, or from varieties of the same kind preferring to pair together.