Gustav Wellenstein

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Gustav Wellenstein visits the Federal Forestry Office in Wense

Gustav Wellenstein (* 27 July 1906 in Trier; † 14 August 1997 in Freiburg im Breisgau) was a German forest scientist. He was a professor at the Albert Ludwigs University of Freiburg from 1957 and was director of the Forest Zoological Institute until his retirement in 1973. The forest zoologist came to prominence primarily with entomological work. His famous study Die Nonne in Ostpreußen (The Nun in East Prussia, 1942), one of the most comprehensive monographs on an insect species ever, was co-authored by him. Wellenstein was a member of the management of the Forest Research Institute in Freiburg.[1]

Life and work

The forester Gustav Wellenstein concentrated on entomological questions at an early stage. In 1931/32, for example, he investigated a barnacle gradation in Coburg and, as an assistant to the Zoological Institute headed by Hermann Eidmann in Hannoversch Münden, undertook studies on the ecology of the pine owl. When in the summer of 1933 the beginning of a large barn owl gradation became apparent in East Prussia, which threatened above all the extensive pine and spruce stands there, the Prussian State Forestry Administration decided to observe the course of the mass reproduction for several years. The aim was not only to gain more detailed biological knowledge about the nun, but above all to develop suitable diagnostic and control methods. After visiting the affected areas, Wellenstein established in an expert report that the nun had proliferated in 20 forestry offices over a total area of more than 100,000 hectares

He had identified a particular threat to the Rominter Heide, one of the largest German forest areas at the time with 25,000 hectares of contiguous woodland. It was therefore selected as an observation area, with Hermann Eidmann as the scientific director of the investigations. As his first assistant, Wellenstein took over the management of a specially established forest station for pest control in Jagdhaus Rominten in April 1934. This was a barrack camp with living and working quarters, from which he and his 37 colleagues undertook extensive studies, observations and experiments in the surrounding stands until 1937. They thus became pioneers of field research, which was still in its infancy at the time. The research methods developed by the forest station had a trend-setting model character for all later field studies on harmful forest butterflies. The extensive results were published in 1942 in the 682-page book Die Nonne in Ostpreußen (The Nun in East Prussia ), the world’s first comprehensive account of insect degradation and its control in the field of forest entomology.

Wellenstein used the sections he had written to gain a doctorate in forestry (Dr. forest.) at the Forestry College in Eberswalde in 1943 and at the same time a doctorate in natural sciences (Dr. rer. nat.) at the University of Königsberg. Already one year later followed – also in Königsberg – his habilitation.

Afterwards, he investigated the great bark beetle calamity of the years 1944 to 1951 in southwestern Germany for the Forestry Directorate of South Württemberg-Hohenzollern, the successful control of which was primarily due to him. In 1954, the results again led to an extensive account in book form. In addition, Wellenstein made a “bark beetle film”, which also attracted a great deal of attention outside Germany and was used as an educational film. Based on his experience with insects that were harmful to forests, the Forestry Directorate of South Württemberg-Hohenzollern founded the Southwest Forest Protection Office in Ringingen in 1948, and Wellenstein was entrusted with its management in 1949.[2] After the foundation of the state of Baden-Württemberg, the forest protection unit was relocated to Wittental and significantly expanded.

In 1955, Wellenstein was appointed lecturer for forest protection at the Faculty of Natural Sciences and Mathematics (from 1970, Faculty of Forestry) of the University of Freiburg, where he became associate professor in 1957 and full professor in 1960 and director of the Institute of Forest Zoology until his retirement in 1973. He published his research results in more than 300 publications in various forestry and entomological journals.

Wellenstein had been a strong advocate of environmental protection since the 1950s. While he was an advocate of chemical crop protection in his younger years, he took an increasingly critical view of it. He now specifically investigated questions of environmental pollution by pesticides and other foreign substances and their effects on humans and animals. He also summarized his concerns in a lecture in 1975, which was published in 1976 under the title Is our health in danger? A Critical Review and Outlook on Chemical Plant Protection, which was published in book form. Strongly influenced by Karl Gößwald, the forest zoologist made forest hygiene and biological pest control the focus of his research from the 1950s onwards. Since then, his scientific work has been characterized by the search for hygienically acceptable methods in forest protection and keeping the environment clean.

Poem by a co-worker on Wellenstein’s research on the red forest ant as a key species in the forest ecosystem

In order to achieve forest stands that were as crisis-proof as possible, he relied primarily on preventive methods such as the promotion of forest ants in the course of ant management, bird protection, fertilization and overall silvicultural changes to the forest structure. Wellenstein also paid attention to pest control through the use of insect-pathogenic viruses and bacteria.

In addition, the name Wellenstein is also familiar to every beekeeper. He intensively researched the connections between forest ants, honeydew insects and the forest honey harvest. After years of mapping forest ants, he developed bee migration maps that gave beekeepers clues to high-yield locations for their forest honey harvest. Wellenstein published his findings in a series of guest articles for the Allgemeine Deutsche Imkerzeitung, among others.

He has received numerous honours for his scientific work, including the Medal of Merit of the German Environmental and Nature Conservation Union (BUND)

Wellenstein continued to work at the Institute almost daily until his death.

Writings (selection)

  • Contributions to the biology of the red forest ant <Formica rufa L.> with special reference to climatic and forest conditions, [in: Zeitschrift für angewandte Entomologie, 14,1], Berlin 1928
  • as editor and essential co-author: The Nun in East Prussia (1933-1937). Field studies of the forest station for pest control in Jagdhaus Rominten. Monographs on Applied Entomology, Number 15, Parey, Berlin 1942
  • as editor and main co-author: Die große Borkenkäferkalamität in Südwestdeutschland 1944-1951. reports and studies on the habits, epidemiology and control of bark-breeding beetles on spruce and fir, Forstschutzstelle Südwest, Ringingen 1954
  • Overview of the mice important for forestry and possibilities of their control, Straßenhaus 1962
  • Is our health in danger? A critical review and outlook on chemical plant protection, Schwab, Schopfheim 1976, ISBN 3-7964-0021-3
  • Waldbewohnende Ameisen. Their importance, their biology, their management and protection, Kempten, 1987 (2nd, revised edition, Kempten 1990)


  • Rudolf Lühl et al.: Festschrift Gustav Wellenstein. Freiburg Forest Protection Treatises, Volume 6, Institute of Forest Zoology, Freiburg im Breisgau 1986, ISBN 3-921954-06-1
  • H. Ruppertshofen: Professor Wellenstein 80 years old. In: Der Forst- und Holzwirt. 41. Jahrgang, Heft 16 1986, p. 453
  • Joachim Schönherr, Jean Pierre Vité: Gustav Wellenstein 80th in: Allgemeine Forstzeitschrift (AFZ), 41st volume, issue 29/1986, p. 740, ISSN 0002-5860
  • Joachim Schönherr: Professor Dr.Dr. Gustav Wellenstein 90 years. In: Allgemeine Forst- und Jagdzeitung. 167. Jahrgang, Heft 9/10 1996, ISSN 0002-5852, p. 204

Web links

Individual references

  1. 50 years of the Forest Research Institute Baden-Württemberg – a review