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


The elder Geoffroy and Goethe propounded, at about the same time, their law of compensation or balancement of growth; or, as Goethe expressed it, "in order to spend on one side, nature is forced to economise on the other side." I think this holds true to a certain extent with our domestic productions: if nourishment flows to one part or organ in excess, it rarely flows, at least in excess, to another part; thus it is difficult to get a cow to give much milk and to fatten readily. The same varieties of the cabbage do not yield abundant and nutritious foliage and a copious supply of oil-bearing seeds. When the seeds in our fruits become atrophied, the fruit itself gains largely in size and quality. In our poultry, a large tuft of feathers on the head is generally accompanied by a diminished comb, and a large beard by diminished wattles. With species in a state of nature it can hardly be maintained that the law is of universal application; but many good observers, more especially botanists, believe in its truth. I will not, however, here give any instances, for I see hardly any way of distinguishing between the effects, on the one hand, of a part being largely developed through natural selection and another and adjoining part being reduced by the same process or by disuse, and, on the other hand, the actual withdrawal of nutriment from one part owing to the excess of growth in another and adjoining part.

I suspect, also, that some of the cases of compensation which have been advanced, and likewise some other facts, may be merged under a more general principle, namely, that natural selection is continually trying to economise in every part of the organisation. If under changed conditions of life a structure, before useful, becomes less useful, its diminution will be favoured, for it will profit the individual not to have its nutriment wasted in building up a useless structure. I can thus only understand a fact with which I was much struck when examining cirripedes, and of which many other instances could be given: namely, that when a cirripede is parasitic within another cirripede and is thus protected, it loses more or less completely its own shell or carapace. This is the case with the male Ibla, and in a truly extraordinary manner with the Proteolepas: for the carapace in all other cirripedes consists of the three highly important anterior segments of the head enormously developed, and furnished with great nerves and muscles; but in the parasitic and protected Proteolepas, the whole anterior part of the head is reduced to the merest rudiment attached to the bases of the prehensile antennae. Now the saving of a large and complex structure, when rendered superfluous, would be a decided advantage to each successive individual of the species; for in the struggle for life to which every animal is exposed, each would have a better chance of supporting itself, by less nutriment being wasted.

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