Certainly no clear line of demarcation has as yet been drawn between species and sub-species--that is, the forms which in the opinion of some naturalists come very near to, but do not quite arrive at, the rank of species; or, again, between sub-species and well-marked varieties, or between lesser varieties and individual differences. These differences blend into each other by an insensible series; and a series impresses the mind with the idea of an actual passage.
Hence I look at individual differences, though of small interest to the systematist, as of the highest importance for us, as being the first step towards such slight varieties as are barely thought worth recording in works on natural history. And I look at varieties which are in any degree more distinct and permanent, as steps toward more strongly marked and permanent varieties; and at the latter, as leading to sub-species, and then to species. The passage from one stage of difference to another may, in many cases, be the simple result of the nature of the organism and of the different physical conditions to which it has long been exposed; but with respect to the more important and adaptive characters, the passage from one stage of difference to another may be safely attributed to the cumulative action of natural selection, hereafter to be explained, and to the effects of the increased use or disuse of parts. A well-marked variety may therefore be called an incipient species; but whether this belief is justifiable must be judged by the weight of the various facts and considerations to be given throughout this work.
It need not be supposed that all varieties or incipient species attain the rank of species. They may become extinct, or they may endure as varieties for very long periods, as has been shown to be the case by Mr. Wollaston with the varieties of certain fossil land-shells in Madeira, and with plants by Gaston de Saporta. If a variety were to flourish so as to exceed in numbers the parent species, it would then rank as the species, and the species as the variety; or it might come to supplant and exterminate the parent species; or both might co-exist, and both rank as independent species. But we shall hereafter return to this subject.
>From these remarks it will be seen that I look at the term species as one arbitrarily given, for the sake of convenience, to a set of individuals closely resembling each other, and that it does not essentially differ from the term variety, which is given to less distinct and more fluctuating forms. The term variety, again, in comparison with mere individual differences, is also applied arbitrarily, for convenience sake.
WIDE-RANGING, MUCH DIFFUSED, AND COMMON SPECIES VARY MOST.
Guided by theoretical considerations, I thought that some interesting results might be obtained in regard to the nature and relations of the species which vary most, by tabulating all the varieties in several well-worked floras. At first this seemed a simple task; but Mr. H.C. Watson, to whom I am much indebted for valuable advice and assistance on this subject, soon convinced me that there were many difficulties, as did subsequently Dr. Hooker, even in stronger terms. I shall reserve for a future work the discussion of these difficulties, and the tables of the proportional numbers of the varying species. Dr. Hooker permits me to add that after having carefully read my manuscript, and examined the tables, he thinks that the following statements are fairly well established. The whole subject, however, treated as it necessarily here is with much brevity, is rather perplexing, and allusions cannot be avoided to the "struggle for existence," "divergence of character," and other questions, hereafter to be discussed.