Semiotic biology has been prepared by epigenetic holistic biology of the nineteenth century (particularly the school of Karl Ernst von Baer), and set forth by Jakob von UexkUll's (1864-1944) physiological study of behavior (Umwelt und Innenwelt der Tiere, 1909), theoretical biology (Theoretische Biologie, 1920, 1928), and theory of meaning (Bedeutungslehre, 1940). The central focus of UexkUll's studies was the study of umwelt (Umweltforschung) - the study of subjective worlds (or the meaningful behavior) of organisms of many different species.
From 1960 to the 1990s, the semiotic approach in biology has been developed in various branches:
1. zoosemiotics, or semiotics of animal behavior and animal communication (T. A. Sebeok, H. Hediger, G. Tembrock);
2. cellular and molecular semiotics - study of organic codes and protolinguistic features of cellular processes (M. Florkin, R. Jakobson, Y. Kawade, M. Barbieri);
3. phytosemiotics, or sign processes in vegetative life (M. Krampen, K. Kull);
4. endosemiotics, or sign processes in the organism's body (Thure von Uexkull, J. Hoffmeyer);
5. semiotics in neurobiology (F. S. Rothschild, T. Deacon, D. Favareau); and
6. origin of semiosis (H. Pattee, R. Thom, A. Sharov, C. Emmeche)
There have been two major paradigms in the 20th century semiotic theory - F. de Saussure's (structuralistic, based on dyadic model of sign), and Ch. S. Peirce's (based on triadic model of semiosis).
Since early 1990s, Copenhagen-Tartu biosemiotic group has been applying the Peircean approach in biology. This has resulted in a wide range of studies and activities in biosemiotics.
'Ecosemiotics' as the semiotic approach in human ecology has been formulated since late 1990s in a series of articles published in the journal Sign Systems Studies.
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