Umberto D'Ancona

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Umberto D'Ancona
Annali del Museo civico di storia naturale Giacomo Doria (1963) (18384129636).jpg
Annals of the Giacomo Doria Civic Museum of Natural History, 1963
Born(1896-05-09)9 May 1896
Died24 August 1964(1964-08-24) (aged 68)
Alma materUniversity of Rome
Known forDescription of eels, contribution to the development of
The Lotka–Volterra equations
Scientific career
InstitutionsUniversity of Padua, University of Siena, University of Pisa
Doctoral advisorGiulio Cotronei

Umberto D’Ancona (9 May 1896 – 24 August 1964) was an Italian biologist. He attended secondary school in Fiume and later enrolled as a student in the Faculty of Natural Sciences at the University of Budapest. During World War I he interrupted his studies to fight as artillery officer, and became wounded and was decorated for military valor. From 1916 to 1920 he studied at the University of Rome under supervision of Giulio Cotronei. He graduated on a thesis on the effect of starvation on the digestive tract of the eel.

He was assistant to Giovanni Batista Grassi and later succeeded Grassi as director of the Comparative Anatomy Institute of the Sapienza University of Rome. He later moved to the University of Padua where he founded the hydrobiological station in Chioggia that now bears his name. He was a member of the Accademia dei Lincei and a corresponding member of the French Academy of Sciences. His work covered marine biology and his interests ranged from physiology to hydrobiology, oceanography and evolutionary theory. He described numerous species, published over 300 papers and authored several books, among them Trattato di Zoologia (1953) and Elementi di Biologia Generale (1945). He studied the effect of reduced fishing effort on the fish stocks in the Adriatic Sea during World War I when fisheries were much reduced.[1]

In 1926 he married Luisa Volterra, daughter of the mathematician Vito Volterra. D'Ancona's work and discussions with Volterra on the effect of reduced fishing on fish stocks inspired Volterra's work on mathematical biology[2] and led to the formulation of the Lotka-Volterra predator-prey model.[3] After Volterra's death d'Ancona published his book La Lotta per l'Esistenza (1942) (translated into English as The Struggle for Existence (1954)), which was inspired and motivated by the work of his father-in-law. The publication of this book in homage to Volterra in 1942 in fascist-controlled Italy is noteworthy as Volterra had refused to sign the oath of allegiance to the fascist government, and had to resign his university post and his membership of scientific academies as a result.[4]


  1. ^ Israel, G., & Gasca, A. M. (2002). Letters between Umberto D’Ancona and Vito Volterra. In The Biology of Numbers (pp. 130-200). Birkhäuser Basel.
  2. ^ Scudo, F. M. (1971). Vito Volterra and theoretical ecology. Theoretical Population Biology, 2(1), 1-23.
  3. ^ Kingsland, S., "Modeling Nature: Episodes in the History of Population Ecology", University of Chicago Press, 1995
  4. ^ Gatto, M. (2009). On Volterra and D'Ancona's footsteps: The temporal and spatial complexity of ecological interactions and networks 1. Italian Journal of Zoology, 76(1), 3-15.