Page:Origin of Species 1859 facsimile.djvu/312

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300
Chap. IX.
IMPERFECTION OF THE

whole world in organic beings; yet if all the species were to be collected which have ever lived there, how imperfectly would they represent the natural history of the world!

But we have every reason to believe that the terrestrial productions of the archipelago would be preserved in an excessively imperfect manner in the formations which we suppose to be there accumulating. I suspect that not many of the strictly littoral animals, or of those which lived on naked submarine rocks, would be embedded; and those embedded in gravel or sand, would not endure to a distant epoch. Wherever sediment did not accumulate on the bed of the sea, or where it did not accumulate at a sufficient rate to protect organic bodies from decay, no remains could be preserved.

In our archipelago, I believe that fossiliferous formations could be formed of sufficient thickness to last to an age, as distant in futurity as the secondary formations lie in the past, only during periods of subsidence. These periods of subsidence would be separated from each other by enormous intervals, during which the area would be either stationary or rising; whilst rising, each fossiliferous formation would be destroyed, almost as soon as accumulated, by the incessant coast-action, as we now see on the shores of South America. During the periods of subsidence there would probably be much extinction of life; during the periods of elevation, there would be much variation, but the geological record would then be least perfect.

It may be doubted whether the duration of any one great period of subsidence over the whole or part of the archipelago, together with a contemporaneous accumulation of sediment, would exceed the average duration of the same specific forms; and these contingencies are