St. Petersburg Branch of the S.I. Vavilov Institute for the History of Science and Technology of the Russian Academy of Sciences (Russia)
Ernst Haeckel and the Modern Perception of Ecology in Russia
The vast scientific heritage of Ernst Haeckel, evolutionist and thinker, includes ecology as well. It is well known that it was he who in 1866 introduced the term “ecology” for the science on the interaction of the organisms and the environment. Traditionally, it is supposed that Haeckel’s merit in world ecology is just the introduction of its name. However, there are few works devoted to the development of Russian ecology. Actually, analysis of the impact of Haeckel’s ecological views on Russian biologists and the development of ecology in the first half of the last century demonstrates that this widely shared opinion should be corrected. I hypothesize that Haeckel’s influence on Russian biologists was somewhat more than commonly thought.
Such an analysis is very timely. Ecology as a science has grown a great deal in popularity throughout the world over the latter half of the 20th and into the 21st century. In modern Russian society, the notions and perceptions of ecology, nature conservation as well as the ethics/esthetics of nature have tended to become synonymous. This tendency has alarmed leading Russian scientists because ecology is not synonymous with environmentalism, natural history or environmental science. A wrong understanding of the content and tasks of ecology, “erosion” of the boundaries between the science and the practice, can lead to the deformation of the educational process and finally may have a negative impact on the science itself. Thus the sources of perception of the term “ecology” and the subject of this science are of special interest.
Russian biologists in the first half of the 20 th century were influenced by Haeckel’s evolutionary approach as well as accepted and highly appreciated his definition of ecology (even in the period of Lysenkoism). Nevertheless, his influence was somewhat limited. In the first quarter of the 20 th century, the term ‘ecology’ appeared rarely in Russian literature. It was often confused with some other science, such as physiology or biogeography. In my opinion, this confusion is one of the roots of the current misunderstanding of ecology as a biological science.
This work is supported by the Russian Foundation for Basic Research (project No. 18-011-00733).