Alfred Russel Wallace : Alfred Wallace : A. R. Wallace :
Russel Wallace : Alfred Russell Wallace (sic)

 
 
The Zoological Relations of Madagascar
and Africa (S275: 1877)

 
Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: A letter to the Editor printed on page 548 of the 25 October 1877 issue of Nature. To link directly to this page, connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S275.htm


    Without entering into the details of this very difficult question I wish to be allowed to state some of the general reasons which have led me to a different conclusion from Dr. Hartlaub,1 and also to point out where he has not quoted my opinions with perfect accuracy. Instead of saying that "the fauna of Madagascar is manifestly of African origin," my actual statement is as follows:--"We have the extraordinary fauna of Madagascar to account for, with its evident main derivation from Africa, yet wanting all the larger and higher African forms; its resemblances to Malaya and to South America; and its wonderful assemblage of altogether peculiar types" ("Geog. Dist. of Animals," vol. i. p. 286). My reasons for believing in the "main derivation" of the fauna from Africa can only be understood by considering the theory, now generally admitted, of the origin of the fauna of Africa itself. All the higher mammalia are believed to have entered it from the northern continent during the middle or latter part of the tertiary period, and the occurrence of Psittacus and of forms supposed to be allied to plantain-eaters and to Leptosomus in the miocene of France, render it probable that many of the peculiar groups of African birds had their origin in the old Palæarctic region. Now Madagascar presents many cases of special affinity with South Africa, especially in insects, land-shells, and plants; and if we suppose it to have formed part of a South African land before the irruption of the higher mammals and birds from the north, we shall I think account for many of its peculiarities. Such facts as its possessing Potamochærus and the recently extinct Hippopotamus, while it has thirteen or fourteen peculiarly African genera of birds against four or five that are peculiarly Oriental; of its having many African genera of lizards and tortoises; of its butterflies being decidedly African; of its numerous African genera of Carabidæ, Lucanidæ, and Lamiidæ; while the specially Oriental affinities of its mammals, reptiles, and insects are hardly if at all more pronounced than the South American affinities of the same groups,--all seem to me to warrant the general conclusion that the "main derivation" of the Madagascar fauna is from Africa.

    Dr. Hartlaub speaks of my "attempted parallel between Madagascar and Africa, and the Antilles and South America" in such a way that his readers must think I had dwelt upon this parallel in some detail as being special and peculiar. The fact is, however, that I have always referred to it in a very general way. At p. 75 vol. i. I say: "The peculiarities it (the Malagasy sub-region) exhibits, being of exactly the same kind as those presented by the Antilles, by New Zealand, and even by Celebes and Ceylon, but in a much greater degree." And again, at p. 272, vol. i., I speak of it as "bearing a similar relation to Africa as the Antilles to Tropical America, or New Zealand to Australia, but possessing a much richer fauna than either of these, and in some respects a more remarkable one even than New Zealand." This general comparison with the two other great insular sub-regions is, I think, justifiable, notwithstanding great differences of detail. There is in all a rich and highly peculiar fauna, a great poverty of mammalia, and a total absence of many large families of birds characterising the adjacent continent, together with special points of resemblance to distant continents or to remote geological periods.

    It seems to me that such a problem as this cannot well be solved by means of a group which, like birds, do not require an actual land-connection in order to reach a given country; and, if all land animals are taken into account, the evidence does not appear to warrant the supposition of a recent land-connection of Madagascar with India or Malaya. At a very remote epoch such a connection may have taken place, but if we are to give any weight to the general facts of distribution as opposed to those presented by birds only, the union of Madagascar with South Africa is more recent and has had more influence on the character of the Malagasy fauna. The numerous and very remarkable points of affinity between Madagascar and South America in almost every group except birds, are not alluded to by Dr. Hartlaub, yet they would equally well support the notion of a former union of those two countries independently of Africa. It seems, however, more consonant with our general knowledge of distribution to consider these as cases of survival of ancient and once wide-spread types in suitable areas; and this is a principle that must never be lost sight of in attempting to solve the problems presented by such anomalous countries as Madagascar.


Note Appearing in the Original Work

1. Nature, vol. xvi. p. 498, and the Ibis for July, 1847, p. 334.


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