Centre for Ecological Research

In 2011 the network or research institutions was restructured by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (MTA). Thus, the MTA Centre for Ecological Research was established on 1 January 2012. The MTA Institute of Ecology and Botany and the MTA Danube Research Institute integrated in the MTA Balaton Limnological Institute. In this way the terrestrial and aquatic ecological research of the country integrated in a single institution, where the possibilities for science, science policy and dissemination of knowledge were taken to an advanced level. Transformations were directed by Zoltán Botta-Dukát as a presidential commissioner. The Institute of Evolution was established in August 2019, then it moved to a new address.

Since 1 September 2019 the research centre as a part of the Eötvös Loránd Research Network (ELKH) has been directed by the Secretary of the ELKH. Due to the decision of 24 November 2020 by the Governing Body of the ELKH, the Balaton Limnological Institute became independent of the Centre for Ecological Research in 2021 and since then it has been working under the direction of the Secretary of the ELKH. Simultaneously the Danube Research Institute changed to Institute of Aquatic Ecology due to its wider fields of research topics and a joined staff increase in aquatic ecology. Thus, currently the Centre for Ecology is formed by three institutions: the Institute of Ecology and Botany, the Institute of Aquatic Ecology and the Institute of Evolution.

András Báldi was the first general director of the centre for research until 2018, Eörs Szathmáry from 2019 to 2021, then László Zsolt Garamszegi followed him in the position from September 2021.

Institute of Evolution

Evolution has a central aspect in biological sciences, since „nothing in Biology makes sense except in the light of evolution” (Theodosius Dobzhansky). This central role makes „evolutionary thoughts” widely applicable within life sciences and possible for even wider applications (in the field of natural, technical and medical sciences, linguistics or psychology). The Institute of Evolution established in 2019 is the flagship of theoretical evolutionary biology in Hungary.

Eörs Szathmáry’s internationally respected scientific school dates back three decades. It grew out of the MTA-ELTE research group of theoretical and evolutionary biology. Its international relations were strengthened by the research activities of the Collegium Budapest – Institute of Advanced Study.

The Institute of Evolution is currently pursuing the following broad research topics:
Investigation of major transitions in evolution, with special regard to the origin of life, the emergence of eukaryotes and the adaptive evolution of language in early hominin populations;
Research on the evolutionary background of animal and human cooperation and altruism using theoretical, experimental and data analysis methods;
Investigation of evolutionary dynamics on neural networks, exploring possible homologies between learning and evolution;
Modelling evolutionary ecological processes at different spatiotemporal scales from the dynamics of microbiome communities to macrobial ecological processes;
Research on the ecology and evolution of parasites and pathogens in order to better understand the dynamics of new emerging diseases mediated by human and animal parasites.

During the first decade after the establishment of the research group, investigations of major transitions in evolution, the origin of life and processes of early evolution were in the focus of research. While the staff has increased, the studied fields became wider: research has been initiated on the evolution of communation and language, evolutionary ecology, evolutionary roots of cooperation (from molecular level to humans), chemical evolution prior to esablishment of life on earth, evolutionary relations of astrobiology. The profile of the institute became even wider in recent years: fundamental researches have been started on possibilities and roles of evolutionary dynamics in human cognitive processes (Darwinian neurodynamics), evolutionary background of various diseases (Darwinian medicine), the first Hungarian robotics laboratory is emerging, intense research has started on evolutionary aspects of prediction and control of new diseases emerging due to climatic change.

The current new institute of the centre for Ecological Research has a wide network of international relations, strong potentials in tenders and a considerable experience in higher education. The purpose of the institute is the internationally relevant research activity from basic science to directly recoverable applications.

Institute of Ecology and Botany and National Botanical Garden

The legal predecessor of the Institute of Ecology and Botany was established as Research Institute of Botany of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in 1952, including the Department of Plant Geography, later Plant Ecology for research and the Department of Botanical Garden – currently National Botanical Garden. The two departments share the same site in Vácrátót, though there are differences in their professional profile. One of them is responsible for the maintenance and presentation of the historical garden established and developed by Earl Sándor Vigyázó, who later handed down it to the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. The other department has carried out research tasks in synbiology in the framework of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences from 1952 onwards. In 1984 the name of the institute was changed to Research Institute of Ecology and Botany due to a focus shift of research fields. The Danube Reseach Station of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences became a department of the reseach institute in 1977. It is part of today’s Institute of Aquatic Ecology.

At the beginning the botanical institute with its moderate staff aimed to reveal the natural vegetation of the country. Besides the description of the vegetation types and landscapes, the natural vegetation map of Hungary was reconstructed, furthermore outstanding results in plant taxonomy and geography were achieved, e.g. exploring the Cuban flora and bryoflora of Africa. Joining the International Biological Program production biological research started in saline and sand regions in the second half of the 1960s. Researches in quantitative ecology, polulation biology, ecophysiology and vegation dynamics from 1970s through the next 25 years achived internationally pioneering and respected, outstanding results. Most important of these are the results on the stand level regulation of ecophysiological activity, the population mechanisms of the degradation and regeneration of natural communities and the dynamics of plant communities. Since the 1990s, the institute has played a key role in surveying the Hungarian vegetation heritage, modernising the classification of habitats, developing the National Biodiversity Monitoring System, describing the vegetation of Hungary’s geographical microregions and summarizing knowledge about invasive species. Later, the spectrum was further expanded with landscape history research, forest reserve research, climate manipulation experiments, and restoration ecological studies. Along with the establishment of the Centre for Ecological Research in 2012, the Institue of Ecology and Botany investigates terrestrial ecology in many groups of organisms and in various special fields, and there are no disproportionate shifts towards any ecological subfields. The scale of the changes is well indicated by the fact that the number of researchers of the institute was 26 in 2002, which changed to 79 by 2021.The institute originally with a botanical and plant ecological profile, retaining and further developing its professional traditions, now covers a wide spectrum of terrestrial ecology, examining almost all kinds of living groups and ecosystems. Its methodological applications have expanded, and its research now includes works based on theory, modelling, remote sensing, field observation, field and laboratory experiments, and molecular genetic methods, it also touches on a number of interdisciplinary fields such as the methods of the social sciences, economics, and social sciences. It seeks to propose scientific solutions to the current environmental challenges, such as land use change, biodiversity crisis, habitat degradation, climate change, urbanization, the effects of intensive agriculture, invasion and the emergence of new diseases.

Institute of Aquatic Ecology

In 1957 the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and the Eötvös Loránd University established a joined research group, at the suggestion of academician Endre Dudich.

Contrary to the practice at that time, a research group with a name, was established under the name of the Hungarian Danube Research Station of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, and operated in this organizational form until 1976.

From 1977 its activity was continued as one of the departments of the Research Institute of Botany of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (the name of the institute was changed to the Research Institute of Ecology and Botany of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in 1984), still under the name of the Hungarian Danube Research Station.

Managers of the station were Endre Dudich (1957–1969), Gábor Szemes (1970–1972), Árpád Berczik (1973–1999), furthermore between 2000–2010 ‒ alternating several times ‒ Nándor Oertel and Keve Tihamér Kiss. In 2010, the 180th General Assembly of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences decided, at the proposal of president József Pálinkás, to develop the station into an independent research institute, so the Danube Research Institute was established in 2011 (founding commissioner, then director: Gábor Guti).

The Centre for Ecological Research of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, established in 2012 within the framework of the renewal of the research network of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, included also the Danube Research Institute.

From 2013, Attila Engloner lead the institute, and from 2016 he became an appointed director. During this period, intensive personnel and infrastructural development took place, which significantly increased the professional standard of the institute.

The proper location of the Danube Research Institute was found in 2014 and the colleagues working scattered (in Göd, Vácrátót and several parts of Budapest) were moved to the Karolina út headquarters in Budapest. The Department of Tisza Research was properly located in the ATOMKI area of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in Debrecen. In order to efficiently organize and manage the research work, the establishment of research groups has also begun.

From 1 April 2019, Zsolt Végvári became the director of the institute. His most important goal is to form the Institute of Aquatic Ecology as one of the leading centres of European aquatic ecological research.

Three jubilee volumes summarize the history of the first five decades of the Danube Research Station, its antecedents and the main research directions:
Fekete Gábor (szerk.): A Magyar Tudományos Akadémia Ökológiai és Botanikai Kutatóintézete 50 éve (1952–2002), Vácrátót 2002.
Fekete, G., Török, K., Kovács-Láng, E., Kiss, Keve K. T. and Nosek, J. (eds): Institute of Ecology and Botany of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, 1952-2002. Vácrátót, Hungary, 2002.
Nosek János és Oertel Nándor (szerk.): A Dunának, mely múlt, jelen s jövendő… 50 éves az MTA Magyar Dunakutató Állomása (1957–2007), Göd – Vácrátót 2007.
For developments after the transformation into an institute, see:
Engloner Attila (2015): Bővülő folyókutatás a bővülő Duna-kutató Intézetben. Hidrológiai Közlöny 95. évf. 5-6. különszám, pp: 16–28.