Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 12.djvu/715

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VERTEBRATE LIFE IN AMERICA.

closely the corresponding parts of the highest Old World apes, than do the latter our Tertiary Primates, or even the recent American monkeys. Various living and fossil forms of Old World Primates fill up essentially the latter gap. The lesser gap between the primitive man of America and the Anthropoid apes is partially closed by still lower forms of men, and doubtless also by higher apes, now extinct. Analogy, and many facts as well, indicate that this gap was smaller in the past. It certainly is becoming wider now with every generation, for the lowest races of men will soon become extinct, like the Tasmanians, and the highest apes cannot long survive. Hence the intermediate forms of the past, if any there were, become of still greater importance. For such missing links, we must look to the caves and later Tertiary of Africa, which I regard as now the most promising field for exploration in the Old World. America, even in the tropics, can promise no such inducements to ambitious explorers. We have, however, an equally important field, if less attractive, in the Cretaceous mammals, which must have left their remains somewhere on this continent. In these two directions, as I believe, lie the most important future discoveries in paleontology.

 

As a cause for many changes of structure in mammals during the Tertiary and Post-Tertiary, I regard as the most potent, natural selection, in the broad sense in which that term is now used by American evolutionists. Under this head I include not merely a Malthusian struggle for life among the animals themselves, but the equally important contest with the elements and all surrounding Nature. By changes in the environment, migrations are enforced, slowly in some cases, rapidly in others, and with change of locality must come adaptation to new conditions, or extinction. The life-history of Tertiary mammals illustrates this principle at every stage, and no other explanation meets the facts.

The real progress of mammalian life in America, from the beginning of the Tertiary to the present, is well illustrated by the brain growth, in which we have the key to many other changes. The earliest known Tertiary mammals all had very small brains, and in some forms this organ was proportionally less than in certain reptiles. There was a gradual increase in the size of the brain during this period, and it is interesting to find that this growth was mainly confined to the cerebral hemispheres, or higher portion of the brain. In most groups of mammals, the brain has gradually become more convoluted, and thus increased in quality as well as quantity. In some, also, the cerebellum and olfactory lobes, the lower parts of the brain, have even diminished in size. In the long struggle for existence during Tertiary time, the big brains won, then as now; and the increasing power thus gained rendered useless many structures inherited from primitive ancestors, but no longer adapted to new conditions.