Ernst Haeckel’s “ecology” in Russia of the first half of the twentieth century

  • Alexandra L. RizhinashviliEmail author
Original Article


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.


Ernst Haeckel Ecology Russia Twentieth century Evolutionary theory Ideology 



I wish to thank Prof. Eduard I. Kolchinsky for translation (from German into Russian) for my work the chapter on ecology and some other texts from “General Morphology of Organisms” and for discussion of some issues of the topic of this manuscript. I also bring my sincere gratitude to Dr. Georgy S. Levit for his comments on draft version of the manuscript and to Prof. Alexey S. Severtsov (Moscow State University) for provision of the portrait of his father. I am deeply grateful to the staff of the Scientific Library of Zoological Institute of the RAS (especially to the head of the Library Dr. Evgenia S. Labina and to librarians Svetlana M. Pulkkinen, Anna A. Khalina, Yulia A. Dunaeva, Daria A. Gudkova). I address my special appreciation to anonymous reviewer of the manuscript. The work is supported by Russian Fund of Basic Research (Project No. 18-011-00733).


  1. Alimov AF (2002) Ob ekologii vser’ez [Seriously on ecology]. Vestnik RAN 72:1075–1080 (in Russian) Google Scholar
  2. Alpatov VV (1923) Ekologiya, kak napravlenie kraevedcheskoy raboty v oblasti zoologii [Ecology as a direction of the regional study in zoology]. Kraevedenie 1:26–31 (in Russian) Google Scholar
  3. Alpatov VV (1939) Rabota laboratorii ekologii NIIZ v 1933-1937 gg. [The work of the laboratory of ecology of the research institute of zoology]. Voprosy ekologii i biocenologii 4:322–326 (in Russian) Google Scholar
  4. Alpatov VV (1940) Laboratoriya ekologii [The laboratory of ecology]. Uchenye zapiski Moskovskogo gosudarstvennogo universiteta LIV:51–59 (in Russian) Google Scholar
  5. Alpatov VV (1957) N.P. Naumov. Ekologiya zhivotnykh. Recenziya [N.P. Naumov. “Animal ecology”. A review]. Byulleten’ Moskovskogo obshchestva ispytatelej prirody. Otdel biologicheskij LXII:64–67 (in Russian) Google Scholar
  6. Anonym (1935) Ot redakcii [Editors’s note]. Voprosy ekologii i biocenologii 2:3–6 (in Russian) Google Scholar
  7. Bakhmetiev PI (1900) Vital’nyj temperaturnyj minimum zhivotnykh s peremennoj temperaturoj krovi [The vital temperature minimum in the animals with inconstant blood temperature]. Academy of Sciences, St. Petersburg (in Russian) Google Scholar
  8. Bogdanov AP (1883) Medicinskaya zoologiya. Obshchie vstupitelnye zoologicheskie dannye i vozzreniya [Medical zoology. General introductory data and views]. A.A. Karzev’s Printing House, Moscow (in Russian) Google Scholar
  9. Borzenkov Ya (1881) Istoricheskij ocherk napravlenij, sushchestvovavshikh v zoologicheskikh naukakh v XIX stoletii [Historical outline of the trends in zoological sciences of the XIX century]. University Printing House, Moscow (in Russian) Google Scholar
  10. Colwell RK (1985) The evolution of ecology. Am Zool 25:771–777CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Cowdy JM (2011) Economy, ecology and sustainability. In: Schwarz A, Jax K (eds) Ecology revisited: reflecting on concepts, advancing science. Springer, Dordrecht, pp 404–411Google Scholar
  12. Dementiev GP (1970) Russkie osnovopolozhniki ekologii [Russian founders of ecology]. In: Ocherki po istorii ekologii [Essays on the history of ecology]. “Nauka”, Moscow, pp 77–88 (in Russian)Google Scholar
  13. Di Gregorio MA (2005) From here to eternity. Ernst Haeckel and scientific faith. Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, GottingenGoogle Scholar
  14. Diskussiya “Osnovnye ustanovki i puti razvitiya sovetskoj ekologii” [The Discussion “The main positions and pathways of development of Soviet Ecology”] (1934). Sovetskaya botanika 3:3–68 (in Russian)Google Scholar
  15. Egerton F (2007) Understanding food chains and food webs, 1700-1970. Bull Ecol Soc Am 88:50–69CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Egerton F (2013) History of ecological sciences, part 47: Ernst Haeckel’s ecology. Bull Ecol Soc Am 94:222–244CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Egerton F (2015) History of ecological sciences, part 55: animal population ecology. Bull Ecol Soc Am 96:560–626CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Egerton F (2016) History of ecological sciences, part 57: aspects of limnology in America, 1930s to about 1990, Led by Hutchinson and Hasler. Bull Ecol Soc Am 97:228–282CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Egerton F (2017) History of ecological sciences, part 59: niches, biomes, ecosystems, and systems. Bull Ecol Soc Am 98:298–337CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Elton Ch (1927) Animal ecology. Macmillan, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  21. Fedorov MP, Chusov AN, Shilin MB (2017) Ekologiya dlya tekhnicheskikh universitetov: ot “ekonomii prirody” k “ekologicheskoj ekonomike” za 150 let (1866-2016) [Ecology for the technical universities: from the “economy of nature” to the “ecological economics” for 150 years (1866–2016)]. St. Petersburg Polytechnic University Publishing House, St. Petersburg (in Russian) Google Scholar
  22. Gause G (1934) The struggle for existence. The Williams and Wilkins Company, BaltimoreCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Geptner VG (1936) Obshchaya zoogeografiya [General zoogeography]. State Publishing House of Biological and Medical Literature, Moscow (in Russian) Google Scholar
  24. Ghilarov AM (1992) Sto dvadtsat pyat let “ekologii” Ernsta Gekkelya [One hundred and twenty five years of Ernst Haeckel’s “ecology”]. Zhurnal obshchej biologii 53:5–17 (in Russian) Google Scholar
  25. Ghilarov AM (2003) The changing place of theory in 20th century ecology: from universal laws to array of methodologies. Oikos 92:357–362CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Ghilarov AM (2013) Sovremennaya ekologiya pod gruzom estestvennoj istorii [Contemporary ecology under pressure of natural history]. Zhurnal obshchey bioloogii 74:243–252 (in Russian) Google Scholar
  27. Haeckel E (1866) Generelle Morphologie der Organismen. Georg Reimer, BerlinCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Haeckel E (1909) Estestvennaya istoriya mirotvoreniya [Natural history of the world creation]. Nauchnaya mysl, St. Petersburg (in Russian) Google Scholar
  29. Haeckel E (1935) Mirovye zagadki [World riddles]. OGIZ, Moscow (in Russian) Google Scholar
  30. Hopwood N (2015) Haeckel’s Embryos: images, evolution and fraud. The University of Chicago Press, ChicagoCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Hossfeld U (2010) Absolute Ernst Haeckel. Orange Press, FreiburgGoogle Scholar
  32. Hossfeld U, Levit G (2015) Yubilej Ernsta Gekkelya v 1934 godu [The Ernst Haeckel anniversary in 1934]. Istoriko-biologicheskie issledovaniya [Studies in the History of Biology] 7:53–66 (in Russian) Google Scholar
  33. Hossfeld U, Olsson L, Levit GS (2017) The 150th anniversary of Ernst Haeckel‘s “Biogenetic law”. Proc Russ State Hydrometeorol Univ 47:167–176Google Scholar
  34. Jax K, Schwarz A (2011a) Competing terms. In: Schwarz A, Jax K (eds) Ecology revisited: reflecting on concepts, advancing science. Springer, Dordrecht, pp 155–159CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Jax K, Schwarz A (2011b) The early period of word and concept formation. In: Schwarz A, Jax K (eds) Ecology revisited: reflecting on concepts, advancing science. Springer, Dordrecht, pp 149–153CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Kalabukhov NI (1956) N.P. Naumov. Ekologiya zhivotnykh [N.P. Naumov “Animal ecology”]. Uspekhi sovremennoj biologii XLII:259–264 (in Russian) Google Scholar
  37. Kashkarov DN (1933) Sreda i soobshchestvo (osnovy sinekologii) [Environment and community (the basic principles of synecology)]. State Medical Publishing House, Moscow (in Russian) Google Scholar
  38. Kholodkovsky NA (1893) Konspekt lekcij medicinskoj zoologii, chitannykh v Imperatorskoj Voenno-medicinskoj akademii v 1892-93 uchebnom godu professorom N.A. Kholodkovskim [Synopsis of the lectures on medical zoology read in the Imperial Military Medical Academy in 1892–93 academic year by professor N.A. Kholodkovsky]. Ya. Trey’s Printing House, St. Petersburg (in Russian)Google Scholar
  39. Kholodkovsky NA (1898) Rabota mysli v novejshej zoologii [The work of thinking in modern zoology]. Mir Bozhij 5:37–44 (in Russian) Google Scholar
  40. Kholodkovsky NA (1918) Uchebnik zoologii dlya vysshikh uchebnykh zavedenij, preimushchestvenno dlya medikov [Handbook of zoology for higher educational institutions, mainly for physicians]. A.F. Devrien’s Publishing House, Petrograd (in Russian) Google Scholar
  41. Kleynenberg SE (1951) Sergej Alekseevich Severtsov [Sergey Alekseevich Severtsov]. In: Severtsov SA (ed) Problemy ekologii zhivotnykh: neopublikovannye raboty [The problems of animals ecology: unpublished works]. Publishing House of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR, Moscow, pp 5–10 (in Russian) Google Scholar
  42. Knipovich NM (1909) Kurs obshchej zoologii dlya vysshikh uchebnykh zavedenij i samoobrazovaniya [Course of general zoology for higher educational institutions and self-education]. A.F. Devrien’s Publishing House, St. Petersburg (in Russian) Google Scholar
  43. Kolchinsky EI (1999) V poiskakh sovetskogo “soyuza” filosofii i biologii (diskussii i repressii v 20-kh—nachale 30-kh gg.) [In search of the Soviet “union” between philosophy and biology (the discussions and the repressions in the 1920s—the early 1930s)]. “Dmitriy Bulanin”, St. Petersburg (in Russian)Google Scholar
  44. Kolchinsky EI (2014) Edinstvo evolyutsionnoj teorii v razdelennom mire XX veka [The unity of evolutionary theory in divided world of the XX century]. Nestor-Historia, St. Petersburg (in Russian) Google Scholar
  45. Krausse E (1987) Ernst Haeckel. BSB B.G. Teubner Verlagsgesselschaft, LeipzigCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Kulagin NM (1937) Zoologiya [Zoology]. SelKhozGIS, Moscow (in Russian) Google Scholar
  47. Lekevicius E (2006) The Russian paradigm in ecology and evolutionary biology: pro et Contra. Acta Zoologica Lituanica 16:3–19CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Levit GS (2011) Looking at Russian ecology through the biosphere theory. In: Schwarz A, Jax K (eds) Ecology revisited: reflecting on concepts, advancing science. Springer, Dordrecht, pp 333–347CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Levit GS, Hossfeld U, Olsson L (2004) The integration of Darwinism and evolutionary morphology: Alexej Nikolajevich Sewertzoff (1866–1936), and the developmental basis of evolutionary change. J Exp Zool 302B:343–354CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Menzbir MA (1887) Vvedenie v izuchenie zoologii [Introduction to zoology study]. Bookseller A.L. Vasiliev’s edition, Moscow (in Russian) Google Scholar
  51. Mirzoyan EN (2013) Stanovlenie ekologicheskikh koncepcij v SSSR: sem vydayushchikhsya teorij (D.N. Kashkarov, V.V. Stanchinsky, S.A. Severtsov, V.N. Beklemishev, L.G. Ramensky, R.F. Gekker, L.S. Berg) [The formation of ecological concepts in the USSR: seven outstanding theories (D.N. Kashkarov, V.V. Stanchinsky, S.A. Severtsov, V.N. Beklemishev, L.G. Ramensky, R.F. Gekker, L.S. Berg)]. Book House “Librokom”, Moscow (in Russian)Google Scholar
  52. Morozov GF (1912) Uchenie o lese [The science of the forest]. Printing House of St. Petersburg City Administration, St. Petersburg (in Russian) Google Scholar
  53. Naumov NP (1955) Ekologiya zhivotnykh [Animal ecology]. Sovetskaya Nauka, Moscow (in Russian) Google Scholar
  54. Nikolsky AM (1909) Geografiya zhivotnykh [Animal geography]. Russian Printing House, Kharkov (in Russian) Google Scholar
  55. Nikolsky GV (1955) O soderzhanii, teoreticheskikh osnovakh i osnovnykh zadachakh ekologii zhivotnykh [On the content, theoretical basis, and principal tasks of animal ecology]. Zoologicheskij zhurnal 34:68–79 (in Russian) Google Scholar
  56. Novikov GA (1970) Sto let ekologii Ernsta Gekkelya [One hundred years of the ecology of Ernst Haeckel]. In: Ocherki po istorii ekologii [Essays on the history of ecology]. Nauka, pp 22–76 (in Russian)Google Scholar
  57. Novikov GA (1980) Ocherk istorii ekologii zhivotnykh [An essay on the history of animal ecology]. Nauka, Leningrad (in Russian) Google Scholar
  58. Ochser PH (1959) The word “ecology”. Science 129:992CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Ozernyuk ND (2012) Nauchnaya shkola N.K. Koltsova: ucheniki i soratniki [N.K. Koltsov’s scientific school: disciples and fellows]. KMK, Moscow (in Russian) Google Scholar
  60. Puzanov II (1938) Zoogeografiya [Zoogeography]. State Educational and Pedagogical Publishing House of the People Commissariat of Education of the RSFSR, Moscow (in Russian) Google Scholar
  61. Reiss C, Springer S, Hossfeld U, Olsson L, Levit G (2007) Introduction to the autobiography of Julius Schaxel. Theory Biosci 126:165–175CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Richards RJ (2008) The tragic sense of life: Ernst Haeckel and the struggle over evolutionary thought. University of Chicago Press, ChicagoCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Rivera AC (2003) Trends in the evolution of ecology: “Spain is different”. Web Ecol 4:14–21CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Roll-Hansen N (2008) Wishful science: the persistence of T.D. Lysenko’s agrobiology in the politics of science. Osiris 23:166–188CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Schmalhausen II (1939) Darvinizm i teorii napravlennoj evolyutsii [Darwinism and the theories of directed evolution]. Zoologicheskij zhurnal 8:544–556 (in Russian) Google Scholar
  66. Schmidt PYu (1925) Organizm i sreda. O sootnosheniyakh organizma s mekhanicheskimi, fizicheskimi i khimicheskimi usloviyami sredy [Organism and environment. On the interrelations of the organism with mechanical, physical and chemical conditions of the environment]. State Publishing House, Leningrad (in Russian) Google Scholar
  67. Schmidt PYu (1927) Organizm sredi organizmov [Organism among organisms]. State Publishing House, Moscow (in Russian) Google Scholar
  68. Schwarz A, Jax K (2011) Etymology and original sources of the term “ecology”. In: Schwarz A, Jax K (eds) Ecology revisited: reflecting on concepts, advancing science. Springer, Dordrecht, pp 145–146CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Serebrovsky PV (1925) Rol’ klimata v evolyutsii ptic [The role of climate in the evolution of birds]. Byulleten’ Moskovskogo obshchestva ispytatelej prirody. Novaya seriya, otdelenie biologii 34:375–415 (in Russian) Google Scholar
  70. Severtsov SA (1937) Darvinizm i ekologiya [Darwinism and ecology]. Zoologicheskij zhurnal 16:591–613 (in Russian) Google Scholar
  71. Severtsov SA (1941) Dinamika naseleniya i prisposobitelnaya evolyutsiya zhivotnykh [The population dynamics and the adaptive evolution of animals]. Publishing House of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR. Publishing House of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR, Moscow (in Russian) Google Scholar
  72. Severtsov SA (1948) Morfo-biologicheskaya teoriya i nekotorye problemy evolyutsionnoj ekologii [The morpho-biological theory and some problems of evolutionary ecology]. Izvestiya Akademii nauk SSSR, seriya biologicheskaya 3:357–363 (in Russian) Google Scholar
  73. Severtsov SA (1951) Problemy ekologii zhivotnykh: neopublikovannye raboty [The Problems of Animal Ecology: unpublished works]. Publishing House of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR, Moscow (in Russian) Google Scholar
  74. Shimkevich VM (1901) Biologicheskie osnovy zoologii [The biological foundations of zoology]. Partnership M.O. Volf, St. Petersburg (in Russian) Google Scholar
  75. Shimkevich VM (1904) Ekologiya [Ecology]. In: Andreevsky (ed) Enciklopedicheskij Slovar’ Brokgauza i Efrona, vol. 79. F.A. Brokgaus and I.A. Efron, Moscow, p 256 (in Russian)Google Scholar
  76. Shimkevich VM (1907) K russkomu izdaniyu [On the Russian Edition]. In: Haeckel E (ed) Mirovye zagadki [World Riddles]. I.D. Ivanov’s Book-Publishing House, Moscow, pp I–VII (in Russian) Google Scholar
  77. Simberloff D (1980) A succession of paradigms in ecology: essentialism to materialism and probabilism. Synthese 43:3–39CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Stanchinsky VV (1923) Ekologicheskoe napravlenie v zoogeografii: zadachi i metody ekologo-geograficheskikh issledovanij ornitofauny [Ecological direction in zoogeography: tasks and methods of ecologo-geographic research of the ornitofauna]. In: Derjugin KM (ed) Proceedings of the first congress of the Russian zoologists, anatomists and histologists in petrograd 15-21/XII 1922. Russian Hydrological Institute’s Printing House, Petrograd, pp 29–30 (in Russian) Google Scholar
  79. Stanchinsky VV (1931) Sukhoputnye soobshchestva zhivotnykh i metody ikh izucheniya [Terrestrial communities of the animals and methods of their research]. In: Schmalhausen II (ed) Proceedings of the fourth congress of zoologists, anatomists and histologists of the Union of S.S.R. Gosmedizdat of Ukrainian SSR, Kiev, pp 64–66 (in Russian) Google Scholar
  80. Stauffer R (1957) Haeckel, Darwin and ecology. Q Rev Biol 32:138–144CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Taliev VI (1926) Organizm, sreda i prisposoblenie [The organism, the environment, and the adaptation]. State Publishing House, Moscow (in Russian) Google Scholar
  82. Tansley A (1987) What is ecology? Biol J Lin Soc 32:5–16CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Timiryazev KA (1907) Osnovnye cherty istorii razvitiya biologii v XIX stoletii [The main traits of the history of the development of biology in the XIX century]. Comradeship “Brothers A. and I. Granat and Ko”, Moscow (in Russian) Google Scholar
  84. Timiryazev KA (1922) Istoricheskij metod v biologii [The historical method in biology]. Russian Bibliographical Institute of the brothers A. and I. Granat and Ko, Moscow (in Russian) Google Scholar
  85. Uschmann G (1967) 100 Jahre “Generelle Morphologie”. Biologische Rundschau 5:241–252Google Scholar
  86. Uschmann G (1970) Opredelenie Ernstom Gekkelem ponyatiya “ekologiya” [The definition by Ernst Haeckel of the notion “ecology”]. In: Ocherki po istorii ekologii [Essays on the history of ecology]. Nauka, Moscow, pp 10–21 (in Russian)Google Scholar
  87. Vasnetsov VV (1938) Ekologicheskie korrelyatsii [The ecological correlations]. Zoologicheskij zhurnal 17:561–578 (in Russian) Google Scholar
  88. Vorontsov NN (2004) Razvitie evolyutsionnykh idej v biologii [Development of evolutionary ideas in biology]. КMК, Moscow (in Russian) Google Scholar
  89. Vulf EV (1932) Vvedenie v istoricheskuyu geografiyu rastenij [An introduction to historical geography of plants]. VASKhNIL’s Publishing House, Leningrad (in Russian) Google Scholar
  90. Zernov SA (1934) Obshchaya gidrobiologiya [General hydrobiology]. Biomedgis, Moscow (in Russian) Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.St. Petersburg Branch of the S.I. Vavilov Institute for the History of Science and Technology of the Russian Academy of SciencesSt. PetersburgRussia

Personalised recommendations