Charles Darwin: The Origin of Species by means of Natural Selection


Habit is hereditary with plants, as in the period of flowering, in the time of sleep, in the amount of rain requisite for seeds to germinate, etc., and this leads me to say a few words on acclimatisation. As it is extremely common for distinct species belonging to the same genus to inhabit hot and cold countries, if it be true that all the species of the same genus are descended from a single parent-form, acclimatisation must be readily effected during a long course of descent. It is notorious that each species is adapted to the climate of its own home: species from an arctic or even from a temperate region cannot endure a tropical climate, or conversely. So again, many succulent plants cannot endure a damp climate. But the degree of adaptation of species to the climates under which they live is often overrated. We may infer this from our frequent inability to predict whether or not an imported plant will endure our climate, and from the number of plants and animals brought from different countries which are here perfectly healthy. We have reason to believe that species in a state of nature are closely limited in their ranges by the competition of other organic beings quite as much as, or more than, by adaptation to particular climates. But whether or not this adaptation is in most cases very close, we have evidence with some few plants, of their becoming, to a certain extent, naturally habituated to different temperatures; that is, they become acclimatised: thus the pines and rhododendrons, raised from seed collected by Dr. Hooker from the same species growing at different heights on the Himalayas, were found to possess in this country different constitutional powers of resisting cold. Mr. Thwaites informs me that he has observed similar facts in Ceylon; analogous observations have been made by Mr. H.C. Watson on European species of plants brought from the Azores to England; and I could give other cases. In regard to animals, several authentic instances could be adduced of species having largely extended, within historical times, their range from warmer to colder latitudes, and conversely; but we do not positively know that these animals were strictly adapted to their native climate, though in all ordinary cases we assume such to be the case; nor do we know that they have subsequently become specially acclimatised to their new homes, so as to be better fitted for them than they were at first.

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