Dollo, Louis Antoine Marie Joseph

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Dollo, Louis Antoine Marie Joseph

(b. Lille, France, 7 December 1857; d. Brussels, Belgium, 19 April 1931)


Dollo belonged to an old Breton family, several generations of which were sailors and lived in Roscoff. He studied at the University of Lille, where the geologist Jules Gosselet and the zoologist Alfred Giard played major roles in his scientific education. In 1877 he graduated with a degree in civil and mining engineering. In 1879 Dollo moved to Brussels, where he worked first as an engineer in a gas factory. At this time he became acquainted with the works of Kovalevski. Having decided to devote himself to paleontology, in 1882 he became junior naturalist at the Royal Museum of Natural History in Brussels. From 1891 almost to the end of his life he was curator of the vertebrate section there. He began teaching in 1909 as extraordinary professor at Brussels University, where he delivered lectures on paleontology and animal geography.

Dollo never limited himself to paleontology, and through his enthusiastic lectures in natural science he popularized scientific knowledge. He was seriously interested in linguistics—he attempted to compose a grammar of the Bantu languages of the Congo Basin—and biochemistry, and his love of music was well known to all around him. An active member of the Royal Academy of Belgium and a corresponding member of many foreign academies, Dollo won the Kuhlmann Prize in 1884, the Lyell Medal in 1889, and the Murchison Medal in 1912.

Fossil reptiles occupied the central place in Dollo’s scientific work. A long series of brief articles contained careful analyses of the phenomena of adaptation among fossil reptiles, especially iguanodonts of the Lower Cretaceous, to certain conditions of existence. These investigations, which laid the foundations for the ethological study of fossil forms, sought to clarify not only their way of life but also the history of their adaptation. The study of the ethological peculiarities of such dinosaurs as Triceratops and Stegosaurus enabled Dollo to make a rather unexpected discovery: these four-legged forms must have had functionally biped ancestors. His works on fossil turtles and mosasaurians had great methodological importance. Explaining the ethological type of fossil sea turtles, Dollo showed what a complex and tortuous path their historical development had followed. The evolution of land forms that shifted to sea life did not involve simply the movement from the shores to the open sea; adaptation frequently took place in the opposite direction. Studying the hearing apparatus of the mosasaurian, Dollo found several indications of an ability to dive, which were confirmed by other signs in the structure of its skull. Investigation of the teeth of various representatives of this group led to the identification of several types of adaptation to its food. The precision of observation and the depth of analysis are also striking in the works devoted to rhynchocephalians, crocodiles, and ichthyosaurs.

Among Dollo’s most significant works is the monograph on lungfishes, which explains the essential characteristics of the evolution of this very interesting group. The basic conclusions of this and other works on fossil and contemporary fish are still valid.

Dollo successfully applied his ethological method of research not only to fossil vertebrates but also to such invertebrates as the cephalopod mollusks and arthropods. However, probably the greatest achievement of this method was its application to the study of certain animals now living. In particular, the ethological analysis of the properties of the extremities of contemporary marsupials allowed Dollo to establish beyond a doubt their origin from ancient forms.

Like Kovalevski, whom he called his teacher and to whom he dedicated a cycle of remarkable lectures published under the title “La paléontologie éthologique” (1909), Dollo was not satisfied with explaining the functional significance of an organ of an animal being studied. He always tried to explain the historical development of, and the reasons for, its adaptation. Guided in his theoretical research by the ideas of Darwin and Kovalevski, Dollo enriched Darwinism by his famous laws on the irreversibility of evolution.

Limitations can sometimes be noted in Dollo’s views in connection with his tendency to delimit mechanically the boundaries between paleontology and geology. Some of his conclusions concerning the mode of life of fossil forms also can be shown—and in fact are being shown—to be imprecise. On the whole, however, his works are of indisputably great methodological and theoretical significance. The most important of them remain unsurpassed models of paleobiological research.


I. Original Works. Dollo’s writings arc “Les lois de l’évolution,” in Bulletin de la Société belge de géologie, de paléontologie et d’hydrologie, 7 (1893), 164–166; “Sur la phylogénie de dipneustes,” in Bulletin de la Société belge de géologie, de paléontologie et d’hydrologie, 9 (1895), 79–128; “Les ancêtres des marsupiaux étaient-ils arboricoles?,” in Miscellaniées biologiques dédiées au Prof. A. Giard à l’occasion du XXVe anniversaire de la fondation de la station zoologique de Wimereux, 1874–1899 (Paris, 1899), pp. 188–203; “Sur l’ évolution des chéloniens marins (considérations bionomiques et phylogéniques),” in Bulletin de l’Académie royale de Belgique. Classe des sciences, no. 8 (1903), 801–830; and “La paléontologie éthologique,” in Bulletin de la Société belge de géologie, de paléontologie et d’hydrologie, 23 (1909), 377–421.

II. Secondary Literature. On Dollo or his work, see O. Abel, “Louis Dollo. 7 Dezember 1857–19 April 1931. Ein Rückblick und Abschied,” in Palaeobiologica, 4 (1931). 321–344; P. Brien, “Notice sur Louis Dollo,” in Annuaire de l’Académie royale de Belgique. Notices biographiques (1951), pp. 69–138; L. S. Davitashvili, “Lui Dollo,” in Voprosy istorii estestvoznania i tekhniki (“Problems in the History of Natural Sciences and Technology”), 3 (1937), 108–120; and V. Van Straelen, “Louis Dollo (1857–1931).” in Bulletin de la Musée d’histoire naturelle de Belgique, 9 , no. 1 (1933), 1–6.

L. K. Gabunia

Dollo, Louis Antoine Marie Joseph

views updated May 08 2018

Dollo, Louis Antoine Marie Joseph (1857–1931) Born in France, Dollo became a professor at the University of Brussels. He was a palaeontologist whose major interest was in the development and evolution of fossil reptiles. He also worked on other fossil vertebrates and modern marsupials, especially the structure of their limbs.

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Louis Antoine Marie Joseph Dollo

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