Pavel Andreevich Kostychev

Kostychev, Pavel Andreevich


Born Feb. 12 (24), 1845, in Moscow; died Nov. 21 (Dec. 3), 1895, in St. Petersburg. Russian scientist, one of the founders of modern soil science. Son of a serf.

Kostychev graduated from the Shatsk District School in 1860, the Moscow Agricultural School in 1864, and the St. Petersburg Institute of Agriculture in 1869. He was arrested in 1869 for participating in the revolutionary student movement. He became a teacher in 1876 and then a professor at the St. Petersburg Institute of Agriculture and St. Petersburg University. In 1878 he organized Russia’s first agronomy laboratory in the sub-department of soil science, where he carried out important research on soil chemistry and physics. In 1881 he defended his dissertation, “Insoluble Soil Phosphate Compounds,” for the degree of master of agriculture. He began to work in the Ministry of Agriculture and State Property in 1885. (In 1894 he became director of the agricultural department.)

Kostychev was concerned mainly with the biological basis of soil formation and methods of increasing soil fertility. He showed that soil formation is a biological process associated with the development of vegetation and microorganisms and that the task of soil science is to study soils in relation to the development of their plant cover. He was the first Russian scientist to apply his knowledge of microbiology to the study of the decomposition of organic matter in soil. Kostychev set forth the results of his studies in the work Soils in the Chernozem Region of Russia: Their Origin, Composition, and Properties (1886). He found that the organic matter of steppe plant root systems is the source of chernozem humus. Decomposed in the soil by microorganisms, the root residues are converted almost entirely to humus. Kostychev focused much attention on the structure of chernozems, regarding structure as an important prerequisite of the fertility of these soils. He demonstrated the specific characteristics of the microbiological decomposition of organic matter under forest vegetation where plant residues accumulate mainly in the form of fallen leaves, needles of conifers, and twigs. They are decomposed on the soil surface almost to the point of complete disintegration when there is adequate moisture and aeration. Therefore, acid podzolic soils poor in humus are formed in coniferous forests and coniferous and broad-leaved forests.

As a result of geobotanical studies on the succession of vegetation in chernozem steppes, Kostychev concluded that woody vegetation can grow there if it is protected during the first years of life against weedy grasses that remove the soil moisture. Because of the drought and crop failure of 1891, Kostychev, in his book Control of Droughts in the Chernozem Region by Cultivating Fields and Accumulating Snow on Them (1893), proposed measures for utilizing soil moisture by soil cultivation and snow retention.

Kostychev was the first in Russia to make extensive use of laboratory experiments. He believed that scientific soil research should be “agricultural-scientific,” that is, it should satisfy the demands of agricultural production.

Kostychev took the lead in creating many well-equipped agricultural experiment stations and in establishing special agricultural schools. He wrote the first Russian textbook on soil science, entitled Soil Science (parts 1–3, 1886–87, lithographic edition), as well as original training and scientific and popular manuals on agriculture, including Theory of Soil Fertilization (1884), Theory of Mechanical Cultivation of Soils (1885), and Popular Handbook of Agriculture (1884; 9th ed., 1922).


Pochvovedenie. Moscow-Leningrad, 1940.
Pochvy chernozemnoi oblasti Rossii: Ikh proiskhozhdenie, sostav i svoistva. Moscow, 1949.
Izbr. trudy. Moscow, 1951. (Contains a bibliography of Kostychev’s works.)


Vilenskii, D. G. P. A. Kostychev. Kuibyshev, 1950.
Kvasnikov, V. V. Pavel Andreevich Kostychev. Moscow, 1951. (Contains a bibliography of Kostychev’s works and the literature on him.)
Khrapkov, S. A. Pavel Andreevich Kostychev. Moscow, 1954.
Khrapkov, S. A. Professor P. A. Kostychev, 3rd ed. Moscow, 1972.