History of the Institute

The Max Planck Institute in Plön has its origins in the "Biologische Anstalt zu Plön", founded by Emil Otto Zacharias in 1891. The Kaiser Wilhelm Society, predecessor of today's Max Planck Society, took over the Institute in 1917 as the "Hydrobiological Institute" in the context of August Thienemann's appointment to the Institute.

At that time, the aim of the station was to be able to conduct aquatic biological research, especially plankton research, directly in the vicinity of numerous inland waters. Plön, surrounded by its lakes, naturally offered the best conditions for this. August Thienemann, who headed the institute for 40 years, increasingly researched lakes as ecosystems. Through his comparative studies far beyond Plön and Germany and his new concepts he founded limnology as a scientific discipline.

His successor in 1957 was Harald Sioli, who was researching in Brazil at the time. He brought tropical ecology to Plön. Sioli undertook numerous research trips, especially to the Amazon region. Under his leadership the institute was expanded and moved to its present location. In 1966 it was renamed the Max Planck Institute for Limnology. In the same year Hans-Jürgen Overbeck was appointed as second director, who headed the new department "General Limnology". He expanded the experimental ecosystem research and especially researched the material cycle of algae and bacteria.

After the retirement of Harald Sioli, Winfried Lampert became the new director of the Max Planck Institute in Plön in 1984. He headed the Department of Ecophysiology until 2006. He mainly used plankton as model organisms, for which he had two large plankton towers, quasi artificial lake models, built at the institute.

Winfried Lampert researched, among other things, predator-prey relationships and the associated evolutionary adaptations, which meant that the Institute's focus gradually shifted towards evolutionary biology. With the appointments of Manfred Milinski in 1999 and Diethard Tautz in 2006, this focus was consolidated, and it was a logical step to rename the institute the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology in 2007. This was followed in 2014 by the appointment of Arne Traulsen as third director and head of the Department of Theoretical Biology. In 2016 Paul Rainey became Director and Head of the Department of Microbial Population Biology. Manfred Milinski retired in 2018, Diethard Tautz in 2023.

The directors run the institute jointly and alternate in the management. In addition to the two departments, each of which contains several independent research groups, the Institute hosts several independent Max Planck Research Groups, Fellow and Guest Groups. Some of these groups are funded with substantial third-party funds. Including scientists, administrative and technical staff, the Institute today has a staff of about 180 employees.


1892 - 1916Emil O. Zacharias

1892 - 1916
Emil O. Zacharias

lead the "Biologische Station zu Plön"



1917 - 1957
August F. Thienemann

Director of the Hydrobiological Institute of the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gesellschaft, later Max-Planck-Society

Publikation References

1957 - 1978Harald Sioli

1957 - 1978
Harald Sioli

Director at the Max Planck Institute for Hydrobiology, later Limnology, Department for Tropical Ecology

Publikation References

1966 - 1991Hans J. Overbeck

1966 - 1991
Hans J. Overbeck

Director at the MPI for Limnology, Department of General Limnology/ Microbial Ecology

Publikation References

1984 - 2006Winfried Lampert

1984 - 2006
Winfried Lampert

Director at the MPI for Limnology, Department for Ecophysiology

Publikation References

1999 - 2018Manfred Milinski

1999 - 2018
Manfred Milinski

Director and leader of the Department for Evolutionary Ecology

Publikation References

2006 - 2023Diethard Tautz

2006 - 2023
Diethard Tautz

Director and leader of the Department Evolutionary Genetics

Publikation References

since 2014Arne Traulsen

since 2014
Arne Traulsen

Director and leader of the Department for Theoretical Biology

Publikation References

since 2016Paul B. Rainey

since 2016
Paul B. Rainey

Director and leader of the Department for Microbial Population Biology

Publikation References

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