Vladimir Zherikhin, a distinguished entomologist, palaeontologist and evolutionary biologist, has died suddenly and absolutely unexpectedly on 21 December, 2001 (because of the overlooked intestine cancer hidden by ulcer).
Vladimir, or Volodya as we called him, was born in Moscow, Russia, 22 July, 1945. His father Vasiliy Zherikhin was born in 1895 in Velikiy Ustyug, North Russia. He participated in the World War I, was wounded in the head resulted in the life-long right-side paralysis. Nevertheless, he was able to restore his speech and walk abilities. For many years he taught mathematics at the Land Exploitation Institute in Moscow. His mother Aleksandra, born in 1897 in the Kamenka village not far from Moscow, was mainly a house wife.
Since his schoolboy years, Volodya has keen interest to insects and particularly to beetles which has led him to the Zoological Museum, Moscow State University. N.N. Plavilshchikov, the famous Russian coleopterist and author of popular books on the nature, and S.I. Keleynikova, tenebrionid beetle specialist, were his first teachers there. Here in the Museum, he met D.V. Panfilov, entomologist, biogeographist and biocenologist, whose influence on and deep respect from Zherikhin were deep and life-long. The atmosphere of ardent devotion to science that governed at the Young Biologist Circle of the Moscow Zoo has also deeply influenced him and provided many life-long friends.
Still before entering the Moscow State University, Zherikhin took part in field works of the medical entomologist group headed by S.P Rasnitsyn, one more his primary teacher and friend, on various Siberian rivers. Co-operation with the entomologists of the Palaeontological Institute in Moscow caused his interest to the insect fossils, and also made him acquainted with the prominent plant sociologist S.M. Razumovsky who made Zherikhin a devoted proponent of his concept of the succession system as the central biocenotic structure.
Palaeoentomological researches by Zherikhin have started with his University fourth-year study of the Baltic amber weevils supervised by B.B. Rohdendorf, that time the head of the Arthropoda Laboratory, Palaeontological Institute, Academy of Sciences of the USSR (now Russian Academy of Sciences). After graduated from the Chair of Entomology, Moscow State University, in 1967, Zherikhin entered the above laboratory where he worked all the rest his life and covered the path from the probationer till the Head of Lab. From the very beginning he was actively participating in various multi-authored projects. One of them, addressed to the Palaeogene biogeography, made him consider and closely acquainted to all major insect groups. Later this resulted in that he easily oriented himself in all diversity of the Meso- and Cenozoic insects, and even made an appreciable taxonomic input in a variety of orders. Yet he has not left his beloved weevils: besides lower-scale descriptive and revisional publications on the extant and extinct Rhynchophora, he has published, jointly with the colleagues, new system of the whole group and comparative study of their wing morphology.
Zherikhin was one of the leading authors of the multi-authored monograph Historical development of the class Insecta (Rohdendorf & Rasnitsyn, 1980) and its new and much expanded English version History of Insects, near to be out now. Zherikhin’s are chapters on the patterns of insect burial (taphonomy), past terrestrial ecology, trace fossils, as well as on trips and praying mantids.
Since 1970 Zherikhin organized field trips to collect fossil insects, and particularly those buried in the Cretaceous and Palaeogene fossil resins, to the northmost Siberia (Taimyr Peninsula), Russian Far East, and Caucasus. These were aimed to reveal changes in the insect world around the Meso-Cenozoic boundary. The materials gathered made him possible to demonstrate the most deep and sharp changes in composition of the fossil assemblages in the mid-Cretaceous time (like in plant fossil assemblages) rather than at the Meso-Cenozoic boundary, as is typical for marine animals.
The above concept of the mid-Cretaceous biocenotic crisis, coupled with further advanced seminal ideas by Razumovsky, Zherikhin used as the base for his concept of the community-level evolutionary. He has developed a palaeontological method of restoration of the past successions, proposed a model of the biocenotic control of evolution, introduced a notion of the extinct ecosystem types (illustrated with some types of the Mesozoic lakes) and traced history of several important types of contemporary biomes (including steppe, savanna, and rain tropical forest). This series of researches titled “Main patterns of the phylocenogenetic processes (exampled by non-marine communities of the Mesozoic and Cenozoic)” has given him a degree of DSc in Biology from the Palaeontological Institute RAS.
Zherikhin took part in many meetings, both Russian and international, and actively co-operated with colleagues all over the world. He participated at the Coordinating Committee of the international project “European Science Foundation Network on Fossil Insects” (1997-1999), initiated the database on the fossil insects, myriapods and arachnids, organized the first abroad insect exhibition (in Australia).
Exceptionally wide range of interests, thirst for new knowledge and phenomenal memory made Zherikhin a real “living encyclopedia” permanently addressed to by his friends and colleagues. His knowledge and interests embraced a wide variety of sciences as well as fiction and poetry. Besides scientific works, he published papers in popular science and literary magazines. He liked to teach and did it well while reading courses on ecology both in a university and in a high school.
Still more he liked working in field. He joined or headed many expedition groups to corners of Siberia (from Taimyr to Dahuria, Sakhalin and Kuril Islands), Soviet Central Asia, Mongolia and Caucasus. The only thing that could sometimes distract him from collecting fossils was collecting living insects where he was not the less successful: his neontologist colleagues and museum keepers were always anxious to reach to his rich harvest.
With his inexhaustible optimism, Zherikhin supported good spirit in other people. He enjoyed each new find, each bright idea, and spared lots of his time in communication to friends and colleagues and discussing their results, It was always of much interest to follow his considerations, irrespective of their subject: either beetles, or ecological crises, or society re-organization. He was always able to respect opinion of his opponent. It was his point of view that discussions and diversity of opinions are necessary for development - not only in science.
His untimely death has left us with large and painful lacuna in integrity of our knowledge, communication, plans and hopes. Long time needs to tighten somehow this hole, to heal this wound. Fortunately, he has left a few his students, and there are also his colleagues able to develop his ideas and approaches. Many files are left as well in his computer that contain results of his researches, either near-ready for publication, or half-ready, or some outlined enough to be able to continue. So Zherikhin will be alive not only in our memory but also in continuation of his own research activity.