In 1954, in order to meet the ever-increasing needs of economic development in Northeast China, the Preparatory Division of the Northeast Institute of Forestry, the Preparatory Division of the Northeast Institute of Soil Sciences, and the Microbiology Department of the Changchun Institute of Comprehensive Sciences were merged to form the Institute of Forestry and Soil Sciences. Many well known scientists such as Liu Shene (botanist), Wang Zhan (botanist), Song Daquan (soil scientist), Chen Enfeng (soil scientist) and Zhang Xianwu (soil microbiologist), joined the Institute at that time. The Institute mainly focused on natural resource surveys.
In 1987, the Institute changed its name to Institute of Applied Ecology because the Chinese Academy of Sciences wanted to strengthen its research programs in ecological and environmental sciences due to newly-emerging environmental problems in China. The mission of the Institute was to conduct ecological and environmental studies by applying new technologies and principles in micro-ecology, ecosystem ecology, experimental ecology, and biotechnology. The Institute was the first to propose the establishment of long-term ecological studies and ecological field stations in China. Professor Zeng Zhaoshun and Professor Shen Shanmin took the lead in drawing up the master plans of the Chinese Ecological Research Network (CERN) and in implementing these plans. They determined unified observation parameters and established technical standards, expanding the ecological research network in an innovative way. This network has now become a highly influential ecological research network covering the major terrestrial and aquatic ecosystem types in China. In 2013, this project was given the First-Class National Science Advancement Award by the state. This presidential award is one of the most prestigious in the Chinese scientific community.
In 1998, the Institute reformulated its goals to conduct research in forest ecology, pollution ecology and regional agricultural sustainable development by applying ecological techniques and new principles as well as conducting field experimental studies.
In 2001, the Institute was selected as a pilot institute of the “Knowledge Innovation Project” of the CAS. Forest ecology and forest engineering, agro-ecology and agricultural engineering, pollution ecology and environmental engineering were identified as priority research fields.
In 2010, the CAS launched the “Innovation 2020” program. The Institute developed its new research plans including One Mission, Three Breakthrough Areas and Five New Nurturing Directions as the main foci. In 2011, the Ministry of Science and Technology approved our proposal to establish a “State Key Laboratory of Forest and Soil Ecology”, a process which involved many rounds of oral defense and intensive competition. This state key laboratory focuses primarily on studies of major ecological processes and their interactions in forest ecosystems, with special attention accorded to the linkages between above- and below-ground processes. The laboratory prioritizes research projects aimed at tackling major ecological problems of important national concern and scientific importance. The establishment of the State Key Laboratory is indicative of the Institute’s important position in forest and soil ecology in the country.