А. K. Dondua
The First Russia-wide Congress of Naturalists and Doctors held in the Assembly Hall of Saint Petersburg Imperial University in December 1867 – January 1868 recognized a pressing task to educate learned societies in natural science. It was the idea of a chairman, famous zoologist, principal of Saint Petersburg University in 1867-1873 and professor Karl Fedorovich Kessler to form the societies under all Russian universities which would have become an important precondition for nature research in all regions of Russia. Basically, it was a far-sighted and ingenious idea to found a network of institutions particularly focused on environmental assets research in Russia without engaging in additional human resources.
The permission of His Imperial Majesty Emperor Alexander II to form such societies was obtained in February 1868. After that Russian Chemical Society (nowadays Mendeleev Centre) and Society of Naturalists were founded under Saint Petersburg University. In 1869, Societies of Naturalists were opened under Universities of Kiev, Kazan, Novorossiysk and Kharkov. Similar institutions appeared afterwards in Derpt University (1887), University of Warsaw (1888) and Tomsk University (1889). The process of learned bodies forming continued with Ekaterinoslav Scientific Society foundation in 1901 and Crimean Society of Naturalists and Nature Lovers - in 1910.
The main goals of Saint Petersburg Imperial Society of Naturalists, which were established in the first Statute of the society in 1868, were to assist Russian nature research, promote natural science, carry out the spread of knowledge in natural science and facilitate communication between Russian scientists.
In 1874 - 1876, the Society goes on the widely known Aral-Caspian expedition. In 1908 – 1909, K. M. Deryugin (President of SPbSN in 1938) did the world's first deep and large-scale hydrobiological survey of Kola Bay on schooner "Aleksandr Kowalevsky". The monograph "Kola Bay Fauna and Its Existence Conditions" based on the findings of this survey was published in 1915. The Society contributed a lot to the research of the White Sea. The Society also sent out expeditions for the mineral resource investigation. Besides expeditions, the Society founded several stations, including Solovetskaya (1882-1899), Murmanskaya (1899-1929), Borodinskaya (1896) and Stepnaya (1914-1919) stations. Performance of these institutions was closely related to the academic work of SPbSU students. Some of SPbSU graduates who did their practical training on station Murmanskaya became famous scientists afterwards, among them were V.N. Beklemishev, P.G. Svetlov, A.A. Lyubischev, B.N. Shvanvich, D.M. Fedotov and others.
K.F. Kessler became the first president of the Society, on his death in 1881 he was superseded by an academician A.N. Beketov, an outstanding Russian botanist, a founder of large scientific school and Dean of Mathematics and Physics Faculty as well as K.F. Kessler. Later in 1976-1883, he became SPbSU Principal. During 19 years from 1900 until 1919, a corresponding member of Academy of Sciences, a world famous geologist and paleontologist A.A. Inostrantsev, headed the Society. Next decade, from 1920 until 1930, is associated with the name of a great researcher and teacher, one of the founders of Russian Botanical Society, academician I.P. Borodina. Subsequently the Society of Naturalists had the following Presidents: academician V.I. Vernadskiy, academician A.A. Uhtomskiy, Prof. K.M. Deryugin and a corresponding member of Academy of Sciences V.A. Dogel. In postwar time the following Presidents were elected: a corresponding member of Academy of Sciences S.D. Lvov, academician L.A. Orbeli, a corresponding member of Academy of Sciences L.L. Vasiliev, prof. B.P. Tokin, a corresponding member of Academy of Sciences Yu.I. Polyanskiy. The high authority of these eminent scientists, educators and public figures of Russia not only corresponded to the level of significance of the Society, which had been established on its foundation, but also largely contributed to its survival in the most difficult years after the revolution. Indeed, it must be noted that St. Petersburg Society of Naturalists is one of the few societies, which were founded in the late 1860s and early 1870s and which has survived to the present day.
In our days the priorities of the Society are: complex research in natural science where its various disciplines overlap, wildlife preservation basically in the Northwest Region of Russia; support of communication between naturalists of Saint Petersburg and Russia; junior naturalists assistance.
In 1995, The Baltic Fund for Nature was created as a section of the Society. The Baltic Fund for Nature (BFN) performs a large range of investigations associated with the development of theoretical and applicative projects aimed at conservation of biological diversity in Russian part of the Baltic Sea basin. Since the creation of the BFN in 1995, Rustam Abdullaevich Sagitov is its permanent director. Under his leadership, the Fund has become one of the principal and respected non-governmental environmental public organizations. In 2004, R.A. Sagitov was awarded the international prize «Baltic Sea Award» for an outstanding contribution to the preservation of the Baltic Sea natural heritage. The Fund experts are a part of the working groups of the Helsinki Commission (HELCOM), R.A. Sagitov officially represents Russia in the working group "Nature Protection and Biodiversity» (HELCOM HABITAT). In 2006, Ministry of Natural Resources recognized the achievements of the Fund staff. Alexey Zavarzin was awarded the Certificate of Merit and Rustam Abdullaevich Sagitov was awarded the title "Honored Worker of the Nature Protection." Currently the director of the BGF is a member of the Environmental Advisory Council of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.
In 1998, on the ground of the students' expedition that was sent to study the flora and fauna of Valaam island in Lake Ladoga there was formed a permanent research group to study the ecosystems of Valaam Archipelago and the surrounding waters of Lake Ladoga.
In 1999, under the guidance of a candidate of biological sciences A.S. Karpov there was formed the ECOM program (currently - ECOM Center of Expertise). ECOM Center has become one of the most prominent public institutions in St. Petersburg due to the consistent policy aimed at protecting the public interests in the field of urban ecology. The Center combines analytical, legal and practical activities. The activity resulted in a large-scale citywide discussion of the master plan, land use regulations and development of St. Petersburg; also in several passed regional laws, dozens of rescued from building parks and other socially important totals. Provision of scientific communication remains relevant to this day; it is achieved by holding regular section meetings and plenary sessions, as well as conferences of the Society. For example, eight plenary sessions were held in 2007. The reports of Thomas Bosch (Kiel, Germany), Adam Wilkins (Cambridge, UK), E. Gaginskaya (St. Petersburg), Neil Jones (Wales, UK), Gregg Orloff (Atlanta, USA) and S.V. Krivovichev (St. Petersburg) were heard and discussed. At a plenary meeting of the Society G. Genihovich, who worked in Norway at the time, gave a speech as a part of the program "Meetings with SPbSU graduates". Three international interdisciplinary conferences "Life and stone" were successfully hosted and supported by RFBR grants. There were also held several other conferences on environment and nature protection.
In 1910, the Society has established an international award in the name of an outstanding Russian naturalist A.O. Kowalevsky, which was supposed to be awarded to researchers for their remarkable contribution to the development of comparative anatomy and embryology. Though the medal with a profile image of A.O. Kowalevsky (by an artist Petr Stadnitskiy) was had been already made, it never had been awarded before the revolution: World War, the following revolutionary upheaval and the civil war interrupted normal international relations for a long time and, finally, the medal was forgotten. Only in 2000, the medal was found in the numismatic collection of the State Hermitage. It turned out that the medal moulds for plaque casting, almost unchanged, are preserved at the St. Petersburg Mint where they were manufactured. Since 2001, this medal is awarded to scientists around the world for their achievements in the field of comparative zoology and embryology, for the development of new approaches to the research of animal evolution and for the identification of historical links between the various groups of animals. In 2001, jury of the award, which consisted of developmental biology experts from Germany, Spain, Russia and the United States, invited to participate in the nomination more than twenty leading scientists in the world. Eight eminent scientists from among the nominees were awarded the medal for the most significant results in the field of evolutionary morphology in the twentieth century. Since 2002, only one Kowalevsky medal is awarded annually. As in the first year, the award is preceded by the procedures of international nomination. Therefore, at the present day the number of the medal winners has reached 14. Among the award winners in 2001 are Donald T. Anderson (Australia), Gary Freeman (USA), Brian Hall (Canada), Olga Ivanova-Casas (Russia), Klaus Nielsen (Denmark), Rupert Riedl (Austria), Rudolf Raff (USA) and Klaus Sander (Germany). In the following years the award winners were Eric Davidson (USA), Walter Gehring (Switzerland), Scott Gilbert (USA), Noriuki Satoh (Japan), Peter Holland (Great Britain) and Michael Akam (UK). In 2008, Kowalevsky medal was awarded to Sean Carroll (USA).
One of the most important and traditional activities of SPbSN is holding research works competitions. This tradition dates back to 1890 when the Kessler Award was established. Among the winners of this award was N.K. Koltsov, who later became an academician. At the present day, the Institute of Developmental Biology of Russian Academy of Sciences is named after Koltsov. The Kessler Award was given to acad. L.S. Berg for his famous book "Fauna of Russia, Fish." In 1901, the Gold Medal Award was established in the name of Grand Duke Alexander Mikhaylovich, who has been Honorary Chairman of the Society for several years since 1892. The first winner of this medal was V.P. Amalitsky with his study of vertebrate fossils from the Permian sediments in Northern Russia. The same medal was awarded to V.I. Palladin for the study of plant respiration. In 1993, on the celebration of the 125th anniversary, the Society re-established monetary prizes for research in the field of biology and geology, carried out by the members of the Society. It was decided that the prize was awarded for textbooks and studying guides once in three years. Among the award winners were N.I. Strelnikova, who was awarded for her masterwork "Paleogene diatoms"; E.I. Kolchinsky ("Evolution of the Biosphere. Historical and Critical Essays of Research in the USSR "); N.I. Krasnova and T.G. Petrov ("The genesis of mineral individuals and aggregates"); O.M. Ivanova-Cazas ("Evolutionary embryology", "Essays on the phylogeny of lower chordates»). The writing team, which consisted of A.A. Zavarzin, A.D. Kharazova and M.N. Molitvin, was awarded for the textbook "Biology of the Cell. General Cytology". The Prize of the Society was awarded to Z.I. Krutetskaya and A.V. Lonskoy for the textbook "Biophysics of Membranes". The Society Awards were also given to S.S. Medvedev for the textbook "Plant Physiology" and A.D. Nozdrachyov for the textbook "Principles of physiology".
In order to encourage scientific creativity of students and perpetuate the memory of the outstanding naturalists of St. Petersburg University the Society has established scholarships for graduate students of biology and soil and geological faculties. The competitive scholarship selection process includes review of available publications, abstracts, participation in research programs, etc. Scholarship Fund of The Society is formed at the expense of the Society and the charitable contributions of legal entities and private individuals. In 2008, the scholarship fund in the name of T.F. Andreyeva was created on the ground of donations. The Fund has the form of a deposit, which interest amounts to the value of scholarship for students working in the field of molecular developmental biology. For the period from 1991 through 2008, 120 students were awarded scholarships by the Society.
Over the last few years, the Society holds an annual contest of graduation theses and master's theses in the field of biology, soil science, geology, geography and related disciplines. Invited experts decide on the winner and thoroughly evaluate the works. Evaluation takes into account more than 30 parameters, including the scientific novelty, degree of independence, labor input of the study, the validity of conclusions, erudition of the author, the logic of presentation, literacy, quality of illustrations, etc. The results of expert review are handled using methods of multivariate statistics. The special thing about the competition is that comparison is not only "horizontal" but also "vertical", i.e. works are also ranked with regard to the results of the past years. Usually four prize levels are awarded including the incentive scholarships. Since 1990, the competition had about 500 entries, 140 of which were awarded.
Publishing has always been one of the top-priority goals of activity of the Society. The first volume of "Treatises of Saint Petersburg Society of Naturalists" was released in 1870. At first one volume, which consisted of two issues, was published annually. From 1888 onwards, each volume consisted of four issues that contained materials of one of the sections of the Society. In the situation of uncertain funding, on the one hand, and development of an extensive network of scientific journals, on the other hand, this scheme has become confusing because the publication of the various editions of the same volume began to fall on different years. Therefore, it was considered appropriate to publish 6 series of the Treatises (general, geology, botany, zoology, physiology, ecology and environmental activities), each of which would have its own volume numbering. In addition, editorial board of the Treatises prefers the publication of monographs or thematic collections to publishing collections of articles on a particular direction of science, as it was before.
Before the Revolution, the main source of funding for the Society was permanent and one-time state grants. For example, the Ministry of Finance voted 25 000 rubles for the equipment of Aral-Caspian expedition in the 1870s. The same Ministry allocated 10,000 rubles for the needs of an expedition to Murmansk in 1880. Altai expedition was equipped at the expense of the Ministry of the Imperial Court. Charitable donations also played the important role. For example, the Society's Stepnaya Station was built in Voronezh Province and at the expense of Countess S.V. Panina. Unfortunately, the accumulated capital of the Society was requisitioned after the revolution, and government subsidies reduced greatly. In the late 1930s - early 40s state subsidies did not cover even the cost of wages of two employees. The last one-time state grant was received from the Ministry of Higher School of the USSR in 1948. Currently, funds of the Society are formed from membership fees, grants and contributions from economic agreements performed by the Society and from business operations of research and development center "Ecoservice" which was established in 1991. (Director A.P. Strelkov.) Over the last few years, on a competitive basis the Society has received grants for publishing and scientific conferences from the Government of St. Petersburg and the RFBR. In 2007, the Society has received a major grant from the Public Chamber under the President of the Russian Federation. Significant assistance is provided to the Society by St. Petersburg State University, which accommodates the meetings, library and offices of the Society on a contract basis and contributes to publication of the Treatises of the Society. Donations of individuals and legal entities come up to a notable contribution.
The Society's activity in the field of ecology and nature preservation has been recognized by the world community, which admitted SPbSN to membership in the World Conservation Union (IUCN), which unites more than 1,000 members from 140 countries.
Entering the fifteenth decade, St. Petersburg Society of Naturalists continues to be active, keeps contributing to the development of natural science, the practical application of its achievements and the realization of creative interests of its members, including those who is taking their first steps in science.