Wolfram Dunger (1929 - 2019)

By Karin Voigtländer & Ulrich Burkhardt

With great sadness we announce the death of Professor Wolfram Dunger, on 24th January 2019, aged 89. We will remember him as an outstanding soil zoologist and one of the most influential researchers on the biology of Collembola, Myriapoda, Lumbricidae and other soil invertebrates. Sixty years of scientific work in the fields of soil zoology, taxonomy, ecology and museology earned him wide national and international recognition.

The name Dunger is inseparably linked to the history of soil zoology in Germany and German-speaking countries. His research on decomposition of litter by soil organisms was some of the earliest in the world on this subject and attracted the attention of many soil biologists. His long-term research-of more than 50 years-on immigration and succession of soil-animal communities on recultivated dumps of open-cast lignite mines was the world's first in this form and made both Dunger and his museum well known within the international scientific community.

After his doctorate at the University of Leipzig, Dunger was denied a classical academic career at the university for political reasons. Instead, in 1959 he was appointed director of a small museum on the easternmost edge of the GDR, the State (today: Senckenberg) Museum of Natural History Görlitz, directly under the control of the State Secretariat for Higher Education. In a wise and prudent way he succeeded in maintaining the museum in this position, with the vital influence possibilities resulting from it for the museum, over the subsequent 50 years.

Following his own research interests, Wolfram Dunger introduced soil zoology as the museum's future research focus. Mainly thanks to his efforts, the small provincial museum developed into an international centre of excellence for soil zoology, which is unique among German natural history museums. Under his directorship he raised the number of curators from 2 to 17; thanks to his personality and vision, he succeeded in gathering numerous talented young scientists, and fostering their development into taxonomic experts for their respective taxa. A substantial number of scientific projects initiated by Dunger provided the basis for the expansion of the museum's research capacities.

Besides his research on soil zoology and ecology, Dunger also achieved worldwide recognition as an expert on Collembola. He initiated the publication of a large-scale critical review of current knowledge about the systematics, ecology, distribution and applied ecology of all Palaearctic Collembola species. These "Synopses on Palaearctic Collembola", written by top experts, and including two volumes by himself, are known worldwide as "Dunger's blue books", providing a comprehensive overview of this important group of soil organisms. Extensive revisions of difficult groups of Collembola were carried out by Dunger, and 30 taxa new to science were described by him.

For Dunger, research was inextricably linked to collections, that is, the organismic documentation of research results, since he regarded collections not only as taxonomic references, but also as an archive of the soil and its inhabitants in space and time. He understood and developed the collections of soil animals as an indispensable pillar of his museum research, the quality of which was closely linked to the taxonomic expertise of the curators. For this, Dunger developed, from 1960 on, the basis for a system of complex sampling techniques still used today, which combines information on physico-chemical site properties, soil types, land use, vegetation and habitat, collection and sorting methods, as well as numerous other parameters. A log number, which links the sampling to each determined species, makes it possible to derive correlations between habitat and the soil-fauna biocoenosis. Today, these log numbers are registered as "Dunger Numbers" (DNR) and thus continue as a permanent token in his honour. This principle of relating a sample to the data associated with it formed the basis for the development of the ecological and taxonomic database "Edaphobase" and its evaluation tools (www.edaphobase.org)

Dunger was not a "museum man" born of need but out of passion. He published intensively on the tasks of a research museum; the two most important among these he considered the preservation of natural resources and the education of the population, particularly about the environment. With great commitment he dedicated himself to the development of exhibitions, the organisation of lecture series and educational courses for the public, teacher training, and much more. It was not until 1992 that he was able to fulfil his great dream with the conception and development of the travelling exhibition "Leben im Boden" (in close cooperation with Dr K. Voigtländer), which opened in Görlitz in September 1995 as part of the international symposium "Importance, Situation, and Development of Systematics in Soil Zoology" and which subsequently was presented in German and international museums throughout Europe.

In addition to his research in soil zoology and taxonomy and his museum activities, Dunger also saw himself responsible for promoting regional natural science research in the local region, Upper Lusatia, following the prohibition of the "Naturforschende Gesellschaft zu Görlitz" after World War II. From 1961 on, he organized regular "Symposia on Scientific Research in Upper Lusatia" at the Museum, the results of which were published in the "Abhandlungen und Berichte des Naturkundemuseums Görlitz" (today "Soil Organisms"). From 1990 to 2007 he was the chairman (later honorary chairman) of the "Naturforschende Gesellschaft der Oberlausitz", newly founded under his initiative in the tradition of the old society.

His second passion after springtails was myriapods. Besides being the subject of smaller taxonomic and faunistic studies, they were an integral part of all his large projects on community ecology. Dunger was one of the first members of the "Centre international de myriapodologie" (CIM, Paris), founded in 1968, and was in close correspondence with many of its members. For political reasons, he was not allowed to take part in conferences or in other personal activities within the society; it was only in 1989 that he was permitted, for the first time and with great difficulties, to attend the 7th International Congress of Myriapodology in Vittorio Veneto. Dunger was very impressed by the activities of the British Myriapod Group (later British Myriapod and Isopod Group). Based on the British model he was significantly involved in an advisory role in founding the Arbeitsgemeinschaft der Deutschsprachigen Myriapodologen [Working Group of German-speaking Myriapodologists] and its journal "Schubartiana" in 2004. Long before the "Red Lists" became the focus of political attention, Dunger called for special protection of soil animals. This inspired the initiation of the project "Red Lists" in the Section Myriapoda of the Görlitz museum, which led to the Saxony-Anhalt red lists for diplopods and chilopods, published in 2004 and continued in 2019, as well as the nationwide Red Lists (2016) for these taxa.

Dunger was not only an active author, publishing about 230 original articles, reviews, textbook contributions and monographs, but also acted for 40 years as chief editor of the "Abhandlungen und Berichte des Naturkundemuseums Görlitz" (today "Soil Organisms"), and for almost 20 years as editor of the "Berichte der Naturforschenden Gesellschaft der Oberlausitz". His popular scientific books "Unbekanntes Leben im Boden" ("Unknown life in soil") and especially "Tiere im Boden" ("Animals in soil") fascinated many prospective scientists and inspired them to dedicate themselves more closely to life in soil.

Wolfram Dunger was able to gain insights into soil zoology on the basis of a broad knowledge of various animal groups, decades of extensive field work and precise knowledge of the literature. This led to a new understanding of life in the soil. His visionary work, his specialist knowledge and his outstanding personality have made the Görlitz research museum what it is today.

A detailed account of Wolfram Dunger's life and work is given by Voigtländer & Burkhardt in Schubartiana (pdf). A complete list of his publications can be found in Klausnitzer (2010).
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