A postal stamp depicting Karl Frantsovich Rouillier.
From 1837 and until his death Rouillier was a member of the Moscow Society of Natural Scientists.
Rouillier was educated in Nizhny-Novgorod and, from 1829 to 1833, at the Moscow Medical and Surgical Academy. He received his doctorate degree in 1837.
Rouillier was a military physician until 1840; from then until his death he held the chair of zoology at Moscow University. He was secretary of the Moscow Society of Natural Scientists (1840–1851), and from 1854 until his death he was editor of the journal Vestnik estestvennykh nauk (“Herald of the Natural Sciences”).
Rouillier’s early works (1840–1848) were devoted to classical studies of the Jurassic, Carboniferous, and Quaternary deposits of the Moscow basin. His proposed schema for subdividing these deposits in the Srednerussky (Mid-Russian) basin is still significant. He explained the uniqueness of the two upper levels of the Upper Jurassic surrounding Moscow in terms of the existence of various climatic zones and of isolated faunal areas during the Jurassic period; he was thus the first to raise the question of the zoogeography and paleoclimatology of the Jurassic seas.
Rouillier’s comparative-historical approach was fundamental to his method of investigation. To understand the interrelationships and evolution of a species, it is insufficient, he believed, merely to establish a morphological affinity between various groups of fossilized and modern forms. Rather, it is necessary to demonstrate that certain forms were transformed into others by “a series of gradual changes,” that is, to establish their actual lineage. It is also necessary to analyze the constantly changing relationships of an organism to its environment that occur during its entire period of existence.
Although the concept of natural selection was missing in Rouillier’s thought, his results represented a major step in the study of the development of organic forms from the simple to the complex, determined by the interaction of an organism with its environment. He was a founder of the first school of evolutionists. His historical explanation of the origin and development of animal instincts crowned his teaching emphasized its breadth and testified to his deep understanding of the universality and fruitfulness of the principle of evolution.
Rouillier suffered persecution by the authorities practically from the beginning of his career, and he labored under intolerable conditions forced upon him by the minister of education.
Rouillier’s zoological work centered mainly on the influence of environmental conditions on animal life and included the study of the migration of birds and fishes, seasonal phenomena, the modifiability of animals under domestication, and the nature and origin of instincts. As early as 1841 he had rejected the concept of the unchangeability of species, and his profound conviction in the historical development of the organic world remained unshakable. He stressed the occurrence of slow and incessant changes in function, as well as in the organization of animal life.
Rouillier was guided by the ideas of Lamarck and Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire in his attempt to explain the causes and laws of heredity, and his well-formulated theory of biological phenomena was the most advanced of its time. Each characteristic of an organism, according to Rouillier, is merely the historically established form of the relationship between the organism and its environment; it is innate “only to the extent that it was innately possible and necessary for it to appear at a certain time.” Despite “the principle of final causes” there is no absolute expediency or predetermined adaptation of an organism to its environment. In opposition to Lamarck, Rouillier demonstrated the possibility of proving evolution without invoking the “internal efforts” of an organism to its “will to improvement,” and he rejected Lamarck’s mechanistic notion of “orgasm.” Rouillier ascribed great significance to the complete extinction of separate systematic groups and often returned to this question.
Under the general concept of external conditions, Rouillier included not only the abiotic environment but also the mutual influence of organisms. He distinguished between intraspecies and interspecies relations, noted the supplanting of one species by another, and considered the “competition” between species. The discrepancy between the number of offspring produced and the number reaching maturity also interested Rouillier and such ideas as “war in nature” and nature as “a natural theater of war” recur in his work.
Rouillier was a member of the Moscow Society of Natural Scientists.
Physical Characteristics: At the end of his life, Rouillier had a brain hemorrhage which caused his death at the age of forty-four.