Some Biogeographers, Evolutionists and Ecologists:
Chrono-Biographical Sketches

Hennig, (Emil Hans) Willi (Germany 1913-1976)
entomology, systematics

Beyond his influential studies on the taxonomy of flies, Hennig will be remembered more generally as the foremost biological systematist of the twentieth century for his development of the methodology known as phylogenetic systematics (now frequently referred to as "cladism" or "cladistics" by his followers). In this system the primacy of the Darwinian notion of "descent with modification" is strictly adhered to (though not necessarily its specific means of enaction), with the result that classification is linked not so much to the comparative measure of character states between species and groups, but directly to their evolutionary record of divergence over time--that is, to their natural phylogeny. This system in turn made it possible for the accelerated development of vicariance biogeography methods, which seek to trace out the record in space of species divergences over time, and relate these to climate changes or other concurrently operating geographical/environmental causal influences. Hennig's method is still controversial, less on its own terms than in the effects its rather strict logic has had on idealistic notions of biological classification per se, and the degree to which it has led its practitioners to treat environmental contexts in largely deterministic terms.

Life Chronology


--born in Dürrhennersdorf, near Zittau, Germany, on 20 April 1913.
--1932: enters University of Leipzig to study natural science
--1936: completes doctoral dissertation on the genitalia of dipterans (flies)
--1937: joins staff of the Deutsches Entomologisches Institut, Berlin
--1939-1945: serves in World War II
--1945: held prisoner of war
--1950: publishes his Grundzüge einer Theorie der Phylogenetischen Systematik
--1961: resigns from the DEI
--1963: made director of the Abteilung für Phylogenetische Forschung at the Ludwigsburg branch of the Staatliches Museum für Naturkunde in Stuttgart
--1966: publishes his Phylogenetic Systematics
--1966: publishes his The Diptera Fauna of New Zealand as a Problem in Systematics and Zoogeography
--1969: publishes his Die Stammesgeschichte der Insekten
--1974: receives Gold Medal of the Linnean Society, London
--1975: receives Gold Medal of the American Museum of Natural History, New York
--dies at Ludwigsburg, near Stuttgart, Germany, on 5 November 1976.
--1980: the Willi Hennig Society founded

For Additional Information, See:

--Dictionary of Scientific Biography, Vol. 17 (1990).
--Entomologica Germanica, Vol. 4 (1978): 377-391.
--Systematic Zoology, Vol. 28(4) (1979): 415-519.
--Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics, Vol. 15 (1984): 1-24.

*                 *                 *                 *                 *

Copyright 2005 by Charles H. Smith. All rights reserved.

Return to Home/Alphabetical Listing by Name
Return to Listing by Country
Return to Listing by Discipline