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


The view commonly entertained by naturalists is that species, when intercrossed, have been specially endowed with sterility, in order to prevent their confusion. This view certainly seems at first highly probable, for species living together could hardly have been kept distinct had they been capable of freely crossing. The subject is in many ways important for us, more especially as the sterility of species when first crossed, and that of their hybrid offspring, cannot have been acquired, as I shall show, by the preservation of successive profitable degrees of sterility. It is an incidental result of differences in the reproductive systems of the parent-species.

In treating this subject, two classes of facts, to a large extent fundamentally different, have generally been confounded; namely, the sterility of species when first crossed, and the sterility of the hybrids produced from them.

Pure species have of course their organs of reproduction in a perfect condition, yet when intercrossed they produce either few or no offspring. Hybrids, on the other hand, have their reproductive organs functionally impotent, as may be clearly seen in the state of the male element in both plants and animals; though the formative organs themselves are perfect in structure, as far as the microscope reveals. In the first case the two sexual elements which go to form the embryo are perfect; in the second case they are either not at all developed, or are imperfectly developed. This distinction is important, when the cause of the sterility, which is common to the two cases, has to be considered. The distinction probably has been slurred over, owing to the sterility in both cases being looked on as a special endowment, beyond the province of our reasoning powers.

The fertility of varieties, that is of the forms known or believed to be descended from common parents, when crossed, and likewise the fertility of their mongrel offspring, is, with reference to my theory, of equal importance with the sterility of species; for it seems to make a broad and clear distinction between varieties and species.

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