Page:Darwinism by Alfred Wallace 1889.djvu/349

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XI
327
THE SPECIAL COLOURS OF PLANTS

rigid selection or some change of conditions. Under nature, as in the case of the Porto Santo rabbits, the rapid increase of these animals would in a very few years stock the island with a full population, and thereafter natural selection would act powerfully in the preservation only of the healthiest and the most fertile, and under these conditions no deterioration would occur. Among the aristocracy there has been a constant selection of beauty, which is generally synonymous with health, while any constitutional infertility has led to the extinction of the family. With domestic animals the selection practised is usually neither severe enough nor of the right kind. There is no natural struggle for existence, but certain points of form and colour characteristic of the breed are considered essential, and thus the most vigorous or the most fertile are not always those which are selected to continue the stock. In nature, too, the species always extends over a larger area and consists of much greater numbers, and thus a difference of constitution soon arises in different parts of the area, which is wanting in the limited numbers of pure bred domestic animals. From a consideration of these varied facts we conclude that an occasional disturbance of the organic equilibrium is what is essential to keep up the vigour and fertility of any organism, and that this disturbance may be equally well produced either by a cross between individuals of somewhat different constitutions, or by occasional slight changes in the conditions of life. Now plants which have great powers of dispersal enjoy a constant change of conditions, and can, therefore, exist permanently, or at all events, for very long periods, without intercrossing; while those which have limited powers of dispersal, and are restricted to a comparatively small and uniform area, need an occasional cross to keep up their fertility and general vigour. We should, therefore, expect that those groups of plants which are adapted both for cross-and self-fertilisation, which have showy flowers and possess great powers of seed-dispersal, would be the most abundant and most widely distributed; and this we find to be the case, the Compositae possessing all these characteristics in the highest degree, and being the most generally abundant group of plants with conspicuous flowers in all parts of the world.