See "Fossil Plants as Tests of Climate," page 40, A.C. Seward, 1892.
Since the first part of this note was written, a paper has been read (May 29th, 1902) by Dr. H.T. Brown and Mr. F. Escombe, before the Royal Society on "The Influence of varying amounts of Carbon Dioxide in the Air on the Photosynthetic Process of Leaves, and on the Mode of Growth of Plants." The author's experiments included the cultivation of several dicotyledonous plants in an atmosphere containing in one case 180 to 200 times the normal amount of CO2, and in another between three and four times the normal amount. The general results were practically identical in the two sets of experiments. "All the species of flowering plants, which have been the subject of experiment, appear to be accurately 'tuned' to an atmospheric environment of three parts of CO2 per 10,000, and the response which they make to slight increases in this amount are in a direction altogether unfavourable to their growth and reproduction." The assimilation of carbon increases with the increase in the partial pressure of the CO2. But there seems to be a disturbance in metabolism, and the plants fail to take advantage of the increased supply of CO2. The authors say:--"All we are justified in concluding is, that if such atmospheric variations have occurred since the advent of flowering plants, they must have taken place so slowly as never to outrun the possible adaptation of the plants to their changing conditions."
Prof. Farmer and Mr. S.E. Chandler gave an account, at the same meeting of the Royal Society, of their work "On the Influence of an Excess of Carbon Dioxide in the Air on the Form and Internal Structure of Plants." The results obtained were described as differing in a remarkable way from those previously recorded by Teodoresco ("Rev. Gen. Botanique," II., 1899
It is hoped that Dr. Horace Brown and Mr. Escombe will extend their experiments to Vascular Cryptogams, and thus obtain evidence bearing more directly upon the question of an increased amount of CO2 in the atmosphere of the Coal-period forests.) It is pretty bold. The rapid development as far as we can judge of all the higher plants within recent geological times is an abominable mystery. Certainly it would be a great step if we could believe that the higher plants at first could live only at a high level; but until it is experimentally [proved] that Cycadeae, ferns, etc., can withstand much more carbonic acid than the higher plants, the hypothesis seems to me far too rash. Saporta believes that there was an astonishingly rapid development of the high plants, as soon [as] flower-frequenting insects were developed and favoured intercrossing. I should like to see this whole problem solved. I have fancied that perhaps there was during long ages a small isolated continent in the S. Hemisphere which served as the birthplace of the higher plants--but this is a wretchedly poor conjecture. It is odd that Ball does not allude to the obvious fact that there must have been alpine plants before the Glacial period, many of which would have returned to the mountains after the Glacial period, when the climate again became warm. I always accounted to myself in this manner for the gentians, etc.
Ball ought also to have considered the alpine insects common to the Arctic regions. I do not know how it may be with you, but my faith in the glacial migration is not at all shaken.
LETTER 396. A.R. WALLACE TO CHARLES DARWIN.
(396/1. This letter is in reply to Mr. Darwin's criticisms on Mr. Wallace's "Island Life," 1880.)
Pen-y-Bryn, St. Peter's Road, Croydon, November 8th, 1880.
Many thanks for your kind remarks and notes on my book. Several of the latter will be of use to me if I have to prepare a second edition, which I am not so sure of as you seem to be.
1. In your remark as to the doubtfulness of paucity of fossils being due to coldness of water, I think you overlook that I am speaking only of water in the latitude of the Alps, in Miocene and Eocene times, when icebergs and glaciers temporarily descended into an otherwise warm sea; my theory being that there was no Glacial epoch at that time, but merely a local and temporary descent of the snow-line and glaciers owing to high excentricity and winter in aphelion.