Charles Robert Darwin (18091882). Origin of Species. The Harvard Classics. 190914.
II. Variation under Nature
Species of the Larger Genera in Each Country Vary More Frequently Than the Species of the Smaller Genera
IF the plants inhabiting a country, as described in any Flora, be divided into two equal masses, all those in the larger genera (i.e., those including many species) being placed on one side, and all those in the smaller genera on the other side, the former will be found to include a somewhat larger number of the very common and much diffused or dominant species. This might have been anticipated; for the mere fact of many species of the same genus inhabiting any country, shows that there is something in the organic or inorganic conditions of that country favourable to the genus; and, consequently, we might have expected to have found in the larger genera or those including many species, a larger proportional number of dominant species. But so many causes tend to obscure this result, that I am surprised that my tables show even a small majority on the side of the larger genera. I will here allude to only two causes of obscurity. Fresh-water and salt-loving plants generally have very wide ranges and are much diffused, but this seems to be connected with the nature of the stations inhabited by them, and has little or no relation to the size of the genera to which the species belong. Again, plants low in the scale of organisation are generally much more widely diffused than plants higher in the scale; and here again there is no close relation to the size of the genera. The cause of lowly-organised plants ranging widely will be discussed in our chapter on Geographical Distribution.
From looking at species as only strongly marked and well-defined varieties, I was led to anticipate that the species of the larger genera in each country would oftener present varieties, than the species of the smaller genera; for wherever many closely related species (i.e., species of the same genus) have been formed, many varieties or incipient species ought, as a general rule, to be now forming. Where many large trees grow, we expect to find saplings. Where many species of a genus have been formed through variation, circumstances have been favourable for variation; and hence we might expect that the circumstances would generally be still favourable to variation. On the other hand, if we look at each species as a special act of creation, there is no apparent reason why more varieties should occur in a group having many species, than in one having few.
To test the truth of this anticipation I have arranged the plants of twelve countries, and the coleopterous insects of two districts, into two nearly equal masses, the species of the larger genera on one side, and those of the smaller genera on the other side, and it has invariably proved to be the case that a larger proportion of the species on the side of the larger genera presented varieties, than on the side of the smaller genera. Moreover, the species of the large genera which present any varieties, invariably present a larger average number of varieties than do the species of the small genera. Both these results follow when another division is made, and when all the least genera, with from only one to four species, are altogether excluded from the tables. These facts are of plain signification on the view that species are only strongly-marked and permanent varieties; for wherever many species of the same genus have been formed, or where, if we may use the expression, the manufactory of species has been active, we ought generally to find the manufactory still in action, more especially as we have every reason to believe the process of manufacturing new species to be a slow one. And this certainly holds true, if varieties be looked at as incipient species; for my tables clearly show as a general rule that, wherever many species of a genus have been formed, the species of that genus present a number of varieties, that is of incipient species, beyond the average. It is not that all large genera are now varying much, and are thus increasing in the number of their species, or that no small genera are now varying and increasing; for if this had been so, it would have been fatal to my theory; inasmuch as geology plainly tells us that small genera have in the lapse of time often increased greatly in size; and that large genera have often come to their maxima, declined, and disappeared. All that we want to show is, that when many species of a genus have been formed, on an average many are still forming; and this certainly holds good.