Page:Darwinism by Alfred Wallace 1889.djvu/39

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THE STRUGGLE FOR EXISTENCE

enemy in the forces of inorganic nature. Each species can sustain a certain amount of heat and cold, each requires a certain amount of moisture at the right season, each wants a proper amount of light or of direct sunshine, each needs certain elements in the soil; the failure of a due proportion in these inorganic conditions causes weakness, and thus leads to speedy death. The struggle for existence in plants is, therefore, threefold in character and infinite in complexity, and the result is seen in their curiously irregular distribution over the face of the earth. Not only has each country its distinct plants, but every valley, every hillside, almost every hedgerow, has a different set of plants from its adjacent valley, hillside, or hedgerow—if not always different in the actual species yet very different in comparative abundance, some which are rare in the one being common in the other. Hence it happens that slight changes of conditions often produce great changes in the flora of a country. Thus in 1740 and the two following years the larva of a moth (Phalaena graminis) committed such destruction in many of the meadows of Sweden that the grass was greatly diminished in quantity, and many plants which were before choked by the grass sprang up, and the ground became variegated with a multitude of different species of flowers. The introduction of goats into the island of St. Helena led to the entire destruction of the native forests, consisting of about a hundred distinct species of trees and shrubs, the young plants being devoured by the goats as fast as they grew up. The camel is a still greater enemy to woody vegetation than the goat, and Mr. Marsh believes that forests would soon cover considerable tracts of the Arabian and African deserts if the goat and the camel were removed from them.[1] Even in many parts of our own country the existence of trees is dependent on the absence of cattle. Mr. Darwin observed, on some extensive heaths near Farnham, in Surrey, a few clumps of old Scotch firs, but no young trees over hundreds of acres. Some portions of the heath had, however, been enclosed a few years before, and these enclosures were crowded with young fir-trees growing too close together for all to live; and these were not sown or planted, nothing having been done to the ground beyond enclosing it

  1. The Earth as Modified by Human Action, p.51