The Institute for Ecology and Evolution arose from the former separate institutes of Botanical Systematics and of Ecology which where merged in the course of reorganisation of the Faculty of Biological Sciences in 2017.
The Institute of Botanical Systematics with Botanical Garden and Herbarium Haussknecht originated from 1949 when the Botanical Institute was divided into two. At the former Botanical Institute famous scientists such as Matthias Jakob Schleiden, Eduard Strasburger, Nathanael Pringsheim, Ernst Stahl and Otto Renner were teaching and doing research. Founding director of the Institute of Botanical Systematics was Otto Schwarz. The Botanical Gardende, which belongs to the institute, emerged from a ”Hortus Medicus” from 1586 and was established at its current location by August Johann Georg Bartsch (as the first director) and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The Herbarium Haussknechtde, also belonging to the institute, goes back to a private initiative by the pharmacist and botanist Carl Haussknecht in 1896. The herbarium was assigned to the university in 1923 and was moved to Jena in 1948. With more than 3.5 million specimen copies it is the largest collection of dried plants in Germany and ranks among the 20 most important herbaria worldwide.
Ecology has a long tradition in Jena, reaching back to middle of the 19th century. At that time the botanist Matthias Jakob Schleiden was already engaged in work on ecological relationships in plants. In 1866 the zoologist Ernst Haeckel framed the term ”Oecologie” to define a new branch within biology that studies the interactions of animals with their environment. The botanist Ernst Stahl, who was appointed to Jena in 1881, is regarded as the founding father of chemical ecology. The roots of the institute go back to the Scientific Section Animal Morphology, Ecology and Systematics founded by Hans Joachim Müller in 1968, from which the Institute of Ecology emerged in 1990 under the directorship of Gerhard Schäller. Internationally the institute became known due to long-term polar ecology research on King George Island/Antarctic since 1989, and the Jena Experiment that was initialised in 2002 and developed into one of the worldwide leading experimental study sites in biodiversity research.
The establishment of the new Institute of Ecology and Evolution in 2017 combines and focuses the shared scientific interests in evolutionary processes and functional biodiversity research. Characteristic of the scientific work are a close connection between theoretical and conceptual basics, empirical data acquisition with a focus on field studies, and population genetics.