Heinz Ellenberg

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Heinz Ellenberg (born August 1, 1913 in Harburg (Elbe) ; † May 2, 1997 in Göttingen ) was a German biologist , botanist and landscape ecologist . He is considered to be the pioneer of a holistic view of the ecosystem in Germany.

Life and scientific stations

Ellenberg grew up in Reinstorf ( Lüneburg Heath ) and Ehmen (Braunschweig area). His father was a teacher and died in World War I in 1914 . From 1920 to 1932 he attended school in Hanover, where he also graduated from high school. From a young age he was interested in the flora and vegetation of his homeland and had contacts with the plant sociologist Reinhold Tüxen .

In 1932, through Tüxen's mediation, he got a job as an assistant to Josias Braun-Blanquet in Montpellier , where he also studied at the university from 1932 to 1938 . Other places of study were Heidelberg , Hanover and Göttingen , where he studied botany , zoology , chemistry and geology . In 1938 he received his doctorate in Göttingen with Franz Firbas with his dissertation “On composition, location and material production of oak and beech mixed forest communities in Northwest Germany .

After completing his studies, he first worked at the Central Office for Vegetation Mapping in Hanover under the direction of Reinhold Tüxen and was a soldier in the " Forschungsstaffel zb V. " under the direction of Otto Schulz-Kampfhenkel during the Second World War . In this, geobotanists , plant sociologists, soil scientists , forest scientists , climatologists , photogrammeters and geographers developed military maps for assessing the terrain through aerial photo analysis and field recordings.

In 1947 Ellenberg got a position as a research assistant at Heinrich Walter in Stuttgart-Hohenheim , where he qualified as a professor in 1948. In 1953 he took over a professorship at the University of Hamburg and, in 1958, succeeded Werner Lüdi as director of the Geobotanical Institute at the ETH Zurich ( Rübel Foundation ).

In 1966 he accepted a call from the University of Göttingen to the chair of geobotany as the successor to Franz Firbas as director of the Systematic-Geobotanical Institute. In 1981 Ellenberg retired.

In addition to his duties as a university professor, Ellenberg had other functions, such as the head of the "Research Center for Location Research Baden-Württemberg" (initially research center for fruit growing) from 1953 to 1958. In 1966, Ellenberg also took over the chairmanship of the German state committee for the International Biological Program IBP . Within this program, Ellenberg became the coordinator of the “ Solling Project ”. In 1970 he developed with employees the basic concept for 1970 by the UNESCO proclaimed "Man and Biosphere Program (MAB)" for the then Federal Republic of Germany.

As an emeritus he dealt among other things with farmhouse shapes and brought out a completely revised edition of the "Vegetation of Central Europe with the Alps" .

Ellenberg as a researcher

In his scientific career, Ellenberg has worked on various aspects in the field of vegetation ecology and made significant contributions to its further development. His research results are of great importance in the field of location studies , which are often also used in agricultural and forestry practice.

With a report that he submitted as a habilitation thesis , he was able to use plant-sociological methods to demonstrate for the first time that the composition of grassland areas and their productivity change as a result of the lowering of the water table.

A few other works in which Ellenberg was able to combine his extensive experience in methods of plant-sociological mapping from Reinhold Tüxen's “ Central Office ” with Heinrich Walter's location theory, testify to his ability to view vegetation and location as a whole and to bring together various research directions.

From around 1950 he included various site factors such as water balance, soil and climate in his investigations and was able to show that plants or plant communities can be used as pointers ( bio-indicators ) for the respective sites where they occur. As a result of these investigations, Ellenberg presented for the first time a tabular overview with essential pointer values ​​for arable and grassland species , which he subsequently extended to a large part of the vascular plants occurring in Central Europe and which led to the publication of the so-called Ellenberg pointer values in 1974 .

Together with his wife Charlotte, during his time in Hohenheim, Ellenberg mapped the phenological development status of a room using easily recognizable test plants and was able to describe areas with the same heat levels . In addition to phenological data (e.g. when fruit trees bloom ), other site features such as soils were also recorded. As a result of these surveys, Ellenberg and his employees presented a growth climate map for Baden-Württemberg , which shows the large-scale and local climatic conditions in SW Germany and their suitability for agricultural use. Ellenberg also advocated a multidisciplinary approach with regard to forest site mapping and presented a pioneering concept for forests on the Swiss plateau. In 1972, together with Frank Klötzli , he presented a synopsis of the vegetation-ecological and site-scientific studies on forest communities and their locations in Switzerland, which were developed at the ETH Zurich under his direction.

The competition research has also increased in 1950 with his now classic Ellenberg Hohenheim groundwater attempt given a significant boost. With this field experiment, he presented insights into causal vegetation science and plant sociology, which greatly influenced their methodological approach in the years that followed.

With the move from Zurich to Göttingen, Ellenberg also combined the chairmanship of the German state committee for the International Biological Program (IBP). Ellenberg, who had already dealt with this UNESCO project in Zurich, was assigned the coordination for the Solling project. With this, Ellenberg's research focus shifted from applied vegetation and geography to ecosystem research . Together with those involved in the Solling project, he was able to give essential impulses to this basic science. The project provided fundamental insights into the function and importance of compartments and cycles in Central European ecosystems.

With the floristic mapping of Central Europe , which Ellenberg initiated and coordinated, Ellenberg, on the other hand, returned to the "roots", as a sound knowledge of the plant species occurring in an area is the prerequisite for the floristic classification of a plant society founded by Braun-Blanquet. The mapping, done by numerous florists and vegetationists, began in 1970 and lasted for about 10 years.

Another notable field Ellenberg worked in was succession research . In 1968 the “ Göttingen Succession Trial ” was set up in the experimental botanical garden of the Georg-August University in Göttingen , with which the development of indigenous plant communities is followed with and without cultural measures.

Together with Müller-Dombois , Ellenberg brought out a refined key for the identification of plant communities based on the life-form classification of Christians Raunkiær .

Besides the vegetation of Central Europe, Ellenberg was particularly interested in the vegetation of South America . In addition to a long research trip in Peru in 1957 and an expedition in 1970/1971 that Ellenberg and his wife led across the Andes from Ecuador to central Chile , he later made short stays in this part of America almost every year. His studies in different vegetation formations in different sea heights and climates brought new insights into the use of these areas. He was able to explain a cattle death that was caused by the fact that the Frisian dairy cows put on pasture in South America did not know the poisonous plants like the local cattle and could therefore avoid them. Ellenberg also conducted research in other parts of the world and, as an expert, contributed several times to improving conditions of use, for example in combating the opuntia plague in Yemen , or through his investigations into the so-called " Kal ", a turf dying off in Iceland in spring .

Ellenberg has not only published numerous individual articles about his research results, but also summarized the knowledge of his time on various aspects of vegetation ecology in several textbooks or better handbooks. The early volumes on the agricultural sociology of plants in 1950: weed communities as indicators for climate and soil and 1952: meadows and pastures and their location assessment should be emphasized .

As “ the Ellenberg ” par excellence, however, his work “ Vegetation Central Europe with the Alps, from a causal, dynamic and historical point of view ”, first published in 1963, is a term in ecological expert circles and beyond. It was published in 1996 in the 5th edition with a length of almost 1100 pages and is probably the last summary of the vegetation in this area that could be managed by one author alone. Christoph Leuschner revised the work and published the 6th edition in 2010.

Together with Vjekoslav Glavač he edited a manuscript by the Yugoslav vegetation ecologist Ivo Horvat on the " vegetation of Southeast Europe " and published it as a book.

The first publication by Ellenberg in 1937 was entitled: " About the rural way of living and settlement in NW Germany in its relationship to the landscape, especially to the plant cover ". The farmhouse research is then entered into Ellenbergs work in the background. After his retirement he turned back to this field and published a summary of his research in his book “ Farmhouse and Landscape in Ecological and Historical Perspective ”.

Honors and memberships


Selection (publications in periodicals are not listed).

  • About the rural way of living and settlement in NW Germany in its relationship to the landscape, especially to the plant cover. In: Annual report of the Natural History Society in Hanover. 81–87, pp. 204–235 ( PDF (30.8 MB) on ZOBODAT ).
  • Vegetation of Central Europe with the Alps from an ecological, dynamic and historical perspective. 6th edition, Ulmer, Stuttgart 2010, ISBN 978-3-8001-2824-2 (1st edition: 1963).
  • Pointer values ​​of plants in Central Europe . In: Scripta Geobotanica. 1974, 1979 and 1992, ISBN 3-88452-518-2 .
  • Farmhouse and landscape from an ecological and historical perspective. Ulmer, Stuttgart 1990, ISBN 3-8001-3087-4 .
  • Weed communities as indicators for climate and soil. Agricultural plant sociology I. Ulmer, Stuttgart 1950.
  • Vegetation of Southeast Europe. (Co-author), Urban & Fischer, Munich 1974, ISBN 3-437-30168-3 .
  • Meadows and pastures and their location assessment. Ulmer, Stuttgart 1952.
  • Tasks and methods of vegetation science. Ulmer, Stuttgart 1956.
  • Ecosystem research. (Ed.) Springer Verlag, Heidelberg, Berlin, New York 1973, ISBN 3-540-05892-3 .
  • Ecological contributions to environmental design. Ulmer, Stuttgart 1983, ISBN 3-8001-3064-5 .


  • Karl-Friedrich Schreiber: Heinz Ellenberg on his 70th birthday. In: Tuexenia. 3, 1983, pp. 9-18.
  • Wolfgang Schmidt (Ed.): Festschrift for Heinz Ellenberg (= negotiations of the Society for Ecology. Volume 11). Society for Ecology, Göttingen 1983, 512 pages.
  • Frank Klötzli: Obituary for Heinz Ellenberg (1913 to 1997). In: Swiss journal for forestry. 149 (3), 1998, pp. 209-211, ISSN  0036-7818 .
  • NN: Professor Ellenberg died. In: AFZ / DerWald. 52 (12), 1997, p. 349, ISSN  1430-2713 .
  • Hartmut Dierschke: Heinz Ellenberg (1913–1997). In: Tuexenia. 17, 1997, pp. 5-10.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ HE (1952): Effects of the lowering of the groundwater level on the meadow communities on the side canal west of Braunschweig. Angew. Plant so. 6:46 p.
  2. HE (1950): Weed communities as indicators for climate and soil. Agricultural plant sociology I. Stuttgart-Ludwigsburg (Ulmer): 141 pp.
  3. HE (1974): Pointer values ​​of the vascular plants of Central Europe. Trachemys Geobot. 9: 97 p.
  4. ^ HE, C. Ellenberg, M. Kohlmeyer u. O. Zeller (1955): Growth Climate Map Southwest Germany Baden-Württemberg 1: 200000. Stuttgart Reise- und Verkehrsverlag: No. 77
  5. HE (1967): Vegetation and soil science methods of forest site mapping. Publ. Geobot. Inst. ETH Rübel Foundation. Zurich 39: 296 pp.
  6. ^ HE and Frank Klötzli (1972): Forest societies and forest sites in Switzerland. Mitt. Switzerland. Rst Forstl. Experimental sw. 48 (4): 587-930
  7. ^ HE, R. Mayer and J. Schauermann (1968): Ecosystem Research - Results of the Solling Project. Stuttgart. 507 pp.
  8. ^ HE and D. Müller-Dombois (1967): A key to Raunkiær plant life forms with revised subdivisions. Ber. Geobot. Inst. ETH pen. Rübel 37: 56-73 Zurich
  9. HE (1975): Vegetation levels in perihumid to periarid areas of the tropical Andes. Phytocoenologia 2 (3/4): 368-387
  10. Lotte Burkhardt: Directory of eponymous plant names - Extended Edition. Part I and II. Botanic Garden and Botanical Museum Berlin , Freie Universität Berlin , Berlin 2018, ISBN 978-3-946292-26-5 doi: 10.3372 / epolist2018 .