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Haeckel, Ernst Heinrich Philipp August (1834 – 1919) German Naturalist, Scientist, Biologist, Philosopher, and Professor

Ernst Heinrich Philipp August Haeckel (1834 1919) German naturalist, scientist, biologist, philosopher, and professor

Ernst Haeckel was born in Potsdam, Germany. As a young boy he was interested in nature , particularly botany, and kept a private herbarium, where he noticed that plants varied more than the conventional teachings of his day advocated. Despite these natural interests, he studied medicineat his
father's insistenceat Würzburg, Vienna, and Berlin between 1852 and 1858. After receiving his license he practiced medicine for a few years, but his desire to study pure science won over, and he enrolled at the University of Jena to study zoology. Following completion of his dissertation, he served as professor of zoology at the university from 1862 to 1909. The remainder of his adult life was devoted to science.

Haeckel was considered a liberal non-conformist of his day. He was a staunch supporter of Charles Darwin, one of his contemporaries. Haeckel was a prolific researcher and writer. He was the first scientist to draw a "family tree" of animal life, depicting the proposed relationships between various animal groups. Many of his original drawings are still used in current textbooks. One of his books, The Riddle of the Universe (1899), exposited many of his theories on evolution . Prominent among these was his theory of recapitulation, which explained his views on evolutionary vestiges in related animals. This theory, known as the Biogenic Law, stated that "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny"the development of the individual (ontogeny) repeats the history of the race (phylogeny). In other words, he argued that when an embryo develops, it passes through the various evolutionary stages that reflect its evolutionary ancestry. Although this theory was widely prevalent in biology for many years, scientists today consider it inaccurate or only partially correct. Some even argue that Haeckel falsified his diagrams to prove his theory.

In environmental science , Haeckel is perhaps best known for coining the term ecology in 1869, which he defined as "the body of knowledge concerning the economy of naturethe investigation of the total relationship of the animal both to its organic and its inorganic environment including, above all, its friendly and inimical relations with those animals and plants with which it directly or indirectly comes into contactin a word, ecology is the study of all those complex interrelations referred to by Darwin as the conditions for the struggle for existence."

[John Korstad ]



Gasman, D. The Scientific Origins of National Socialism: Social Darwinism in Ernst Haeckel and the German Monist League. New York: American Elsevier, 1971.

Hitching, F. The Neck of the Giraffe: Darwin, Evolution, and the New Biology. Chula Vista, CA: Mentor, 1982.

Smith, R. E. Ecology and Field Biology. 4th ed. New York: Harper and Row, 1990.

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