The Zoologist/4th series, vol 1 (1897)/Issue 672/On the Preservation of our Indigenous Fauna and Flora

On the Preservation of our Indigenous Fauna and Flora (1897)
by John Lubbock
4054974On the Preservation of our Indigenous Fauna and Flora1897John Lubbock


By Sir John Lubbock, Bart., M.P., F.R.S., &c.

[We are indebted to Sir John Lubbock for the following Report of his Address to the Selborne Society on May 20th.—Ed.]

The Selborne Society is especially necessary in a populous country like our own. Our rarer animals and plants are gradually disappearing. Parliament has done what it could in passing wise laws, and County Councils are doing their best to carry them into effect. They can, however, effect comparatively little, unless they have the general support of the community.

We hear a good deal about the love of Nature, but it often takes an unfortunate form. It was said of King William Rufus that he "loved the tall deer like a father"; but what he loved was killing them, and I am afraid that the love of animals shown by many people is of that description.

Again, many show their love of flowers by gathering them; sometimes getting very soon tired of them and throwing them away. I have often been asked why I do not gather flowers when I am so fond of them; but I always say that is the very reason why I prefer to leave them where they are growing.

The use of the word sport is I think unfortunate. A great deal more interest is to be got out of animals by keeping them alive than by putting them to death.

Only recently a friend of mine saw seventeen Nightingales stuck upon a gamekeeper's cottage, and when he asked the gamekeeper why in the world he killed these charming little birds, the man said that they made such a noise at night that they kept his young Pheasants awake.

At the same time it must be confessed that the strict protecting which is necessary for the preservation of game does also to some extent protect other birds, and has therefore, at any rate, that advantage.

It is very remarkable, considering how long we have lived on this globe with other animals and plants, how little we know about them; and yet there is intense interest in unravelling the secrets of nature.

I do not allude to difficult problems which require physical laboratories and observatories, nor to those which can only be solved by technical study. The formation of the blood, for instance, is still a mystery; and it is certainly an extraordinary thing, considering the great importance of blood in the animal system, that we do not yet know how or where it is produced. There are many other questions of the same kind which might be mentioned, but which, though of great importance, hardly came within the range of such a Society as our own.

Even, however, as regards the habits and life of our commonest animals and plants, there are still an immense number of interesting problems remaining to be explained and solved.

Perhaps the commonest of all English plants is Pleurococcus vulgaris, the little alga or seaweed which covers the stems of trees, palings, and other woodwork of a similar character with a coating of green. It consists of small rounded cells, sometimes quite separate, sometimes grouped together in little packets of two, four, or eight. These divide and subdivide, and multiply in this manner. But obviously this is only a part of the life-history of the plant. Like the rest of its family it probably, at certain times and under certain conditions, produces spores; but all this part of its life-history is quite unknown. In the case of the common mushroom, again, the spores are of course enormously abundant, and yet nothing is known about their germination.

Peas, beans and other leguminous plants almost invariably have swellings or tubercles on their roots. These are supposed to be produced by bacteria, and when such tubercles are present great quantities of nitrogen are accumulated. An important result of this is that leguminous crops are supposed actually to enrich the soil. In Germany, in many places, the yellow lupine is especially grown for no other purpose but to be ploughed in and thus improve the soil for other crops. These bacteria are therefore of great importance and abundance; but the rest of their life-history is quite unknown. The relation of these bacteria to the lupines, and their whole action, is still very little understood.

As regards the animal kingdom, many of the most interesting recent discoveries have been made with reference to the commonest species. Until within the last few years the male of the Gallfly, which produces the common King Charles Oak-apple, was unknown. It is now found that the species goes through a sort of alternation of generations, the autumn brood being quite different from that of the spring.

In Bees and some allied insects it has recently been discovered on what the sex of the young depends. They are almost the only animals of which this can be said.

So again in the case of Eels. It was long ago mentioned by Aristotle that nobody knew how or where Eels bred, and certainly no one had ever seen until in the last few years the egg of the Eel, or the young Eel just emerged from the egg. It has now been shown, mainly by the researches of Grassi, that the history of the Eel is in fact the reverse of that of the Salmon. The Salmon comes up into our rivers to breed; the Eel goes down into the sea and breeds in water of great depth.

All our ponds are rich in different species of Rotatoria, the Common Rotifer itself being very abundant; and yet I believe up to the present time no male of the genera Philodina, Rotifer, Calledina, or Admeta has yet been discovered.

Many other similar instances might be mentioned. These few, however, suffice to show how many interesting problems in Natural History remain to be solved.

This work was published before January 1, 1929, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.

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