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Hartlaub's Birds of Madagascar (S274: 1877)

Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: A book review of Gustav Hartlaub's Die Vögel Madagascars und der Benachbarten Insel-gruppen. Ein Beitrag zur Zoologie der Äthiopischen Region. printed in the 11 October 1877 issue of Nature. Original pagination indicated within double brackets. To link directly to this page connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S274.htm

     [[p. 498]] Nothing can be more conducive to the progress of zoological science in any country than the issue of handbooks of the different branches of its fauna in a cheap and convenient form. Such publications bring home to a multitude of observers a résumé of the facts previously known only to a few, and such as are too often scattered over the pages of periodicals and other works which can only be consulted in an extensive library. Those who are acquainted with the vast advance made towards our knowledge of the Birds of India since the issue of Dr. Jerdon's Handbook will readily admit the truth of what we say and many other examples might be adduced of the beneficial effects of similar publications.

     Dr. Hartlaub's "Birds of Madagascar," although an excellent and original scientific work, is quite of the "Handbook" character--that is it gives us a résumé of all that is yet known concerning the Avifauna of Madagascar and the appendent islands in a cheap and portable volume--such as may be conveniently carried in the hand of any naturalist visiting those regions. Fifteen years ago Dr. Hartlaub issued a volume of similar character,1 but much smaller in dimensions. To understand how great has been the advance lately made in our knowledge of the birds of these regions, we have only to compare the "Ornithologischer Beitrag" of 1861 with the "Vögel Madagascars" of 1877. Since the publication of the former work Holland has sent forth Pollen and Van Dam, France Grandidier, and England Crossley and Newton, into that rich and still imperfectly explored field, from which every one of them has reaped an abundant harvest.

     The "Lemurian Avifauna,"2 according to Dr. Hartlaub, is now known to contain 284 species of birds. Of these 220 are found in Madagascar itself, and 104 out of these 220 are absolutely restricted to that island. Moreover, of these 104 birds not less than ninety are so abnormal in structure that it has been found necessary to refer them to peculiar genera. Compared with Madagascar itself the appendent island groups are poor in species, although in every case there are many interesting forms amongst their winger inhabitants. The Comoro Islands muster only some forty-four species3 of birds, Mauritius about sixty, of which fifteen or sixteen have been introduced by man's agency, and Bourbon about the same number, while Rodriguez appears to have only about twenty-five species now existing in it, of which four or five are certainly recent introductions. But we cannot speak of the recent ornithology of these islands without a passing allusion to the singular forms--now mostly known to us by their fossil remains--which have become but very recently extinct, and the gradual rediscovery of which must ever rank among the most interesting scientific achievements of the present epoch. Besides the Dodo of Mauritius and its brother, the Pezophaps, of Rodriguez, we now know that divers curious parrots (Necropsittacus and Lophopsittacus) and extraordinary rails (Miserythrus and Aphanopteryx) lived in those islands not long ago, and that other strange fowls were found in the same company. Two of the remarkable forms of the Mascarene Islands (Coracopsis mascarina and Fregilupus varius) have indeed become exterminated so recently that examples of their skins are still to be found in some of our older museums.

     Let us now see what Dr. Hartlaub's conclusions as to the general facies of the avifauna of Madagascar and it appendent islands point to.

     "Many years ago," he tells us, "the late distinguished naturalist, Isidore Geoffroy St. Hilaire, remarked that, if one had to classify the island of Madagascar exclusively on zoological considerations, and without reference to its geographical situation, it could be shown to be neither Asiatic not African, but quite different from either, and almost a fourth continent. And this fourth continent could be further proved to be, as regards its fauna, much more different from Africa, which lies so near to it, than from India, which is so far away. With these words, the correctness and pregnancy of which later investigations tend to bring into their full light, the French naturalist first stated the interesting problem for the solution of which an hypothesis based on scientific knowledge has recently been propounded.

     "For this fourth continent of Isidore Geoffroy is Sclater's 'Lemuria'--that sunken land which, containing parts of Africa, must have extended far eastwards over [[p. 499]] Southern India and Ceylon, and the highest points of which we recognise in the volcanic peaks of Bourbon and Mauritius, and in the central range of Madagascar itself--the last resorts of the mostly extinct Lemurine race which formerly peopled it. When Wallace, whose utterances on this subject everyone must read with the greatest interest, puts forward a former junction of Madagascar with Africa as beyond doubt--a junction which, however, must have terminated before the inroad into Africa of the more highly organised mammals--everyone will allow this opinion to be at all events well founded. But when he proceeds to state that the fauna of Madagascar is manifestly of African origin, his assurances are based upon very slender grounds. In truth the individuality of the fauna of Madagascar is so unique that even that of New Zealand can hardly be compared with it. Wallace's attempted parallel between Madagascar and Africa, and the Antilles and South America is, in our eyes, sufficiently disproved by the occurrence in the Antilles of Trochilidæ, one of the most characteristic forms of South America. But in Madagascar not one single one of the genera most characteristic of Africa occurs. This originality of the fauna is much too pronounced to allow Madagascar to be treated of only as a 'sub-region' or as an 'aberrant part' of the Æthiopian region."

     To prove this position, Dr. Hartlaub in his interesting introduction to the present work, recapitulates the points in which the avifauna of "Lemuria" approximates to that of India and diverges from that of Africa.

     "But the negative evidence," he adds, "is still stronger in the same direction. The groups of Musophagidæ, Coliidæ, Lamprotornithinæ, Buphagidæ, Capitonidæ, Indicatoridæ, Bucerotidæ, and Otidinæ, so eminently characteristic of of Africa, are entirely absent in Madagascar, besides the genera Gypogeranus, Helotarsus, Coracias, Crateropus, Irrisor, Bradyornis, Dryoscopus, Laniarius, Telephonus, Prionops, Platystira, Saxicola, Picathartes, Balæniceps, and others, which are remarkably rich in individuals and species in Africa. Besides this, Larks and Chats, which in the African fauna are specially prominent on account of their numerous forms as well as regards their individual and specific abundance, are only represented by a single species in Madagascar itself, and in the rest of the sub-region not at all.

     "In conclusion," Dr. Hartlaub adds, "if we take a glance at the families of the Madagascar sub-region as compared with those of Africa, four of these (Mesitidæ, Paictidæ, Eurycerotidæ, and Leptosomidæ) are peculiar, whilst the Diurnal Accipitres, Pigeons, Honeyeaters, and Cuckoos, are richest in species. In a considerable degree this is also the case with the orders Grallæ and Anseres. As contrasted with Africa and the Fringillidæ, Meropidæ, and Sturnidæ (represented by only one genus), are extraordinarily poor. On the other hand, the Coraciidæ, Laniidæ, Artamidæ, Turdidæ, Muscicapidæ, Pycnonotidæ, and Lusciniidæ, are remarkable for their peculiarly modified types, and the Sittidæ, which are quite unrepresented in Africa, for the anomalous form Hypherpes."

     Such are Dr. Hartlaub's matured views on a subject which he has long had before him, and is, above all persons, qualified to speak.

     In concluding our notice we have only to thank him on the part of ornithologists for his convenient and useful volume, and to wish that the Avifauna of many other countries were treated of in a similar manner.

Notes Appearing in the Original Work

1. "Ornithologischer Beitrag zur Fauna Madagascars. Mit Berücksichtigung der Inseln Mayotte, Nossi-Bé und St. Marie, sowie der Mascarenen und Seychellen." 8vo. Bremen: 1861. [[on p. 498]]

2. Madagascar and its islands were proposed to be called Lemuria, in 1864, by Sclater, as being supposed remnants of the old "Terra Lemurum," wherein this peculiar form of mammalian life had its origin. The name has been adopted by Haeckel and other writers on Distribution. [[on p. 498]]

3. Since Dr. Hartlaub's work was published, an important addition has been made to the Avifauna of the Comoros by Mr. Edward Newton, in his memoir of the birds of the Island Anjuian. (P.Z.S. 1877, p. 205 et. seqq.) [[on p. 498]]

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