Ernst Haeckel's "ecology" in Russia of the first half of the twentieth century

Theory Biosci. 2019 May;138(1):89-103. doi: 10.1007/s12064-019-00281-7. Epub 2019 Mar 13.


The vast scientific heritage of Ernst Haeckel, evolutionist and thinker, comprises ecology as well. It is well known that it was he in 1866 introduced the term "ecology" for the science on interaction of the organisms and the environment. Haeckel built his system of the biological science (to be more precise, of the zoological science), including ecology, on the basis of Charles Darwin's evolutionary theory (the theory of natural selection). Traditionally, it is supposed that Haeckel's merit in world ecology is just the introduction of its name. However, there are few works devoting to development of Russian ecology. Actually, analysis of the impact of Haeckel's ecological views on Russian biologists and development of ecology in the first half of the last century demonstrates that widely used opinion should be corrected. I hypothesise that Haeckel's influence on Russian biologists was somewhat more than commonly thought. In spite of a rather long oblivion of the term "ecology" in the Russian literature followed by confusion of ecology and some other sciences (physiology, biogeography), some biologists saw in the Haeckel's understanding of ecology the base for synthesis of ecology and the evolutionary theory. There are some specific traits of Haeckel's influence on Russian biologists. At first, some of them accepted his evolutionary approach. Secondly, they highly appreciated his definition of ecology. Biologists defended such understanding of ecology even in the period of Lysenkoism pressure. At the same time, it is evident that Haeckel's influence on development of ecology was somewhat limited.

Keywords: Ecology; Ernst Haeckel; Evolutionary theory; Ideology; Russia; Twentieth century.

Publication types

  • Biography
  • Historical Article
  • Portrait

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution
  • Biology / history*
  • Developmental Biology / history*
  • Ecology / history*
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • Politics
  • Russia
  • Selection, Genetic

Personal name as subject

  • Ernst Haeckel