Botanica Pacifica

Special issue: In memoriam

Botanica Pacifica. A journal of plant science and conservation 2023. 12(2):134-137
Article first published online: 31 OCT 2023 | DOI: 10.17581/bp.2023.12s11

Alexey Borisovich Shipunov. 9 April 1965 – 4 December 2022

Pyotr N. Petrov 1,2 ORCID, Peter G. Efimov 3 ORCID, Yuri O. Kopylov-Guskov 1,4 ORCID, Sergei R. Majorov 1 ORCID, Maxim S. Nuraliev 1 ORCID, Alexei A. Oskolski 3,5 ORCID, Svetlana V. Polevova 1 ORCID, Dmitry D. Sokoloff 1 ORCID & Marina V. Fridman 6 ORCID

1 Faculty of Biology, M.V. Lomonosov Moscow State University, Moscow, Russia
2 Moscow South-West High School, Moscow, Russia
3 V.L. Komarov Botanical Institute, St. Petersburg, Russia
4 Faculty of Biology, Shenzhen MSU-BIT University, Shenzhen, China
5 Department of Botany and Plant Biotechnology, University of Johannesburg, Johannesburg, South Africa
6 N.I. Vavilov Institute of General Genetics, Moscow, Russia

Alexey Borisovich Shipunov was an outstanding person in many ways. An accomplished botanist, he was also a programmer and a teacher. One of his many impressive features was his universality. Indeed, he was interested in a vast range of things, and his professional scope accordingly tended to be universal: for example, as a taxonomist, he studied a few groups of plants, but, unlike almost any taxonomist today (and like Linnaeus), he was keenly interested in the global system of life, and had his own opinion about how it should look like.

Alexey was born and grew up in Moscow. He graduated from the Department of Higher Plants, Faculty of Biology, Lomonosov Moscow State University, in 1990. In 1998, he defended his candidate of sciences (PhD) thesis on taxonomy of the genera Plantago L. and Psyllium Mill. (Plantaginaceae) in European Russia and adjacent areas. Alexey’s thesis was supervised by Professor Vadim Nikolayevich Tikhomirov, who at that time was the head of the Department of Higher Plants. Having spent some years after his PhD in Moscow with no success in getting a research or teaching position at the University, in 2002–2003, he moved for a year to Kew Gardens, United Kingdom, then briefly returned to his hometown, and finally emigrated to the United States in 2006. He worked first at the university of another, much smaller, Moscow (Idaho), then in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, and then in Minot, North Dakota, where he got his tenure. However, restless as he was, in 2019, Alexey left the USA for a temporary position at Kyoto University, Japan. Kyoto was his last place of residence. During his last few years, he travelled all around Japan, from Hokkaido to Okinawa, but mainly lived in the Old Capital.

Alexey dedicated much of his time to education. He was a long-time member of the organising committee of the most informal of Russian biology contests for school students, the School Biology Olympics at Moscow State University. He taught at Moscow South-West High School No. 1543 (1992 – 2006), where he established a system of scientific projects for children of the specialised biology class; both the class and the system survived to this day.

Alexey also taught in each of the several universities where he worked. Additionally, he recorded a lot of short educational videos for YouTube, and even during the last evening of his life he was preparing for an online lecture for students of Moscow University.

Alexey was also into programming and considerably helped to develop and popularise the R software environment, which is widely used among researchers worldwide. Alexey published a series of manuals on employment of this programming language in biological studies.

Alexey travelled across the world to study the flora of all its regions. One of his most impressive accomplishments was the re-discovery (together with his daughter, Ekaterina) of the poorly known plant Haptanthus Goldberg & C. Nelson in Honduras described as recently as in 1989. The plant was known from a few poorly preserved herbarium specimens, and its phylogenetic position and floral morphology remained unclear. Alexey’s re-discovery was instrumental in establishing the actual phylogenetic and structural relationships of this enigmatic and highly endangered monospecific genus. A video of his seminar talk on Haptanthus is available (see seminar-biology-2020/).

The list of publications by Alexey provided here (Electronic appendix) and mainly compiled by himself demonstrates the enormous diversity of his scientific interests. He was always interested in any new techniques and ideas and, most importantly, had a unique and extremely broad knowledge of literature and scientific problems. Apart from his books, papers and other traditional publications, Alexey left some web resources, including two highly important and widely used ones: his Manual for the Plants of the World ( and the Flora and Fauna fundamental electronic library (http://

Alexey Shipunov's materials ( shipunov/index-en.htm) include diverse information that will be of continuous use for many teachers and researchers in biology. In particular, they comprise a series of versions of Alexey’s classification of flowering plants. This classification continuously was in the focus of Alexey’s interest. It provides an example of his ability to go against the mainstream. While nearly all the current classifications are illustrated or can be illustrated by cladograms, he continued the tradition of presenting a diagram of taxonomic relationships in the form of a two-dimensional map. This tradition was introduced in the 18th century by Paul Dietrich Giseke (inspired by Carl Linnaeus) and developed in the 20th century by Rolf Dahlgren. Alexey’s choice is related to the fact that, in the time of almost universal dominance of the cladistic concept of monophyly, he continued accepting paraphyletic taxa. In doing this, he followed the views of several major taxonomists of the 20th century, such as Armen Takhtajan, Arthur Cronquist, Rolf Dahlgren, and Robert Thorne. At the same time, he was using, as much as possible, any new pieces of phylogenetic evidence, including, of course, the molecular ones. As a result, Alexey’s system provides a unique opportunity to observe the pure impact of molecular data on angiosperm taxonomy because the classification of the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group incorporated changes made according to the new molecular evidence as well as the cladistic interpretation of the idea of monophyly. Alexey’s diagram of classification (Fig. 2) can be used as a modern analogue of the famous Dahlgrenograms.

The Flora and Fauna fundamental electronic library is one of the parts of Alexey’s heritage that will save the memory about him for a long time. In this project, which was upheld without any funding but with the enthusiastic help of numerous colleagues from various cities and countries, Alexey managed to compile an outstanding collection of literature on the biodiversity (and related topics) of the countries of the former Soviet Union. It is difficult to imagine any formally organised programme that has achieved a comparable enormous outcome. Apart from the pure scientific value, this library, and entire life of Alexey, served to save the remains of the Soviet scientific community and to maintain scientific links between experts in natural history from different countries.

We will remember Alexey as a lively, bright, and kind person. For example, we will remember his self-ironic story about how he came to the Botanical Congress in Melbourne and rented a car. “I’m driving out of the airport and I see something is wrong; everyone is driving towards me. Oh… In Australia, you drive on the left side of the road.”

Alexey died last year: he drowned while swimming in the Pacific Ocean near the coast of the Miyazaki Prefecture, Kyushu Island, Japan. We, his colleagues, lost in him a dear friend and a priceless source of knowledge. We will miss him, and will try to do our best to preserve his heritage.

Memorial bibliography of Alexey Shipunov, compiled by Pyotr N. Petrov, Peter G. Efimov, Yuri O. Kopylov-Guskov, Sergei R. Majorov, Maxim S. Nuraliev, Alexei A. Oskolski, Svetlana V. Polevova & Dmitry D. Sokoloff, is provided as electronic attachment to this article.



Dahlgren, R.M.T. 1977. A commentary on a diagrammatic presentation of the angiosperms in relation to the distribution of character states. Plant Systematics and Evolution, Supplement 1:253-283. CrossRef

Dahlgren, R.M.T. 1980. A revised system of classification of angiosperms. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 80:91-124. CrossRef

Shipunov, A.B. 2003. The system of flowering plants: synthesis of classical and molecular approaches. Zhurnal Obshchei Biologii 64(6):499-507 (in Russian). [Шипунов А.Б. 2003. Система цветковых растений: синтез традиционных и молекулярно-генетических подходов. Журнал общей биологии. Т. 64, № 6. С. 499-507].

van Putten, K. 2019. Three eighteenth-century attempts to map the natural order: Johann Herrmann-Georg Christoph Würtz-Paul Dietrich Giseke. Early Science and Medicine 24:33-89. CrossRef

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