The Origin Of Species By Natural Selection Essay

The Origin Of Species By Natural Selection Essay

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In this excerpt from On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, Darwin uses general observations about the current and historical distribution of animals in conjunction with his theory of common ancestry and descent with modification to explain, broadly, the patterns of geographical distribution. He also presents evidence that life radiated from a single point of origin. There are several main observations that Darwin depends on in his analysis.
First, that the distribution of life on earth can’t be predicted based on abiotic factors. Among the examples given is that between the Old and New World, there exist very similar habitats that contain very different suites of animals. Conversely, there can be strikingly similar animals that exist under various environments. Since the theory that life was created at several geographic points on earth also says that each species was created in their best habitat, both these examples give evidence against such a theory.
Secondly, that isolation contributes to the suite of taxa present in an area. Darwin assigns the strength of a barrier effect based on the presence of stopping places. A long distance ocean barrier without stopping places would have the strongest isolation effect, as on many islands. Other barriers with an isolating effect are mountain ranges, deserts, and large rivers. This applies to marine life as well; for example, the Isthmus of Panama serves as a thin but impassable barrier between seas. Without an isolating effect, there is generally a gradient of clearly related species as one travels along a continuous habitat (whether terrestrial or marine). Fossils give historical support for this observation. When discussing the lack of barriers and the relatednes...


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...m a different angle than earlier sections. Namely, that some organisms which are basal to a taxon have had ample time to experience those rare dispersal events mentioned earlier; as well as being relatively slow to change compared to more recently derived species. In most cases, this combination should allow them to be widely found. This tendency makes sense only when taken from the single radiation point theory, with colonization occurring from the most likely source with subsequent modification.
Overall, Darwin presents compelling evidence for distribution of species from a single radiation point using knowledge of geologic history from the time, extrapolations from his theory of descent by modification, observations from himself as well as Gould, Wallace and others, and contributions from other disciplines--largely ecology, but also paleontology and glaciology.

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