Page:Darwinism by Alfred Wallace 1889.djvu/189

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VII
167
ON THE INFERTILITY OF CROSSES

law existed was never more than a plausible generalisation, founded on a few inconclusive facts derived from domesticated animals and cultivated plants. The facts were, and still are, inconclusive for several reasons. They are founded, primarily, on what occurs among animals in domestication; and it has been shown that domestication both tends to increase fertility, and was itself rendered possible by the fertility of those particular species being little affected by changed conditions. The exceptional fertility of all the varieties of domesticated animals does not prove that a similar fertility exists among natural varieties. In the next place, the generalisation is founded on too remote crosses, as in the case of the horse and the ass, the two most distinct and widely separated species of the genus Equus, so distinct indeed that they have been held by some naturalists to form distinct genera. Crosses between the two species of zebra, or even between the zebra and the quagga, or the quagga and the ass, might have led to a very different result. Again, in pre-Darwinian times it was so universally the practice to argue in a circle, and declare that the fertility of the offspring of a cross proved the identity of species of the parents, that experiments in hybridity were usually made between very remote species and even between species of different genera, to avoid the possibility of the reply: "They are both really the same species;" and the sterility of the hybrid offspring of such remote crosses of course served to strengthen the popular belief.

Now that we have arrived at a different standpoint, and look upon a species, not as a distinct entity due to special creation, but as an assemblage of individuals which have become somewhat modified in structure, form, and constitution so as to adapt them to slightly different conditions of life; which can be differentiated from other allied assemblages; which reproduce their like, and which usually breed together—we require a fresh set of experiments calculated to determine the matter of fact,—whether such species crossed with their near allies do always produce offspring which are more or less sterile inter se. Ample materials for such experiments exist, in the numerous "representative species" inhabiting distinct areas on a continent or different islands of a group; or even