Acharius Medallists

Otto Ludwig Lange

Professor Otto Ludwig Lange is a lichenologist through and through – although most of his lichenological work is embedded in his general research interest: ecology and ecophysiology of plants.

Lange was born on the 21st of August 1927 in Dortmund. He studied Biology, Chemistry and Physics in Freiburg and Göttingen and was first qualified for a secondary school teachers' profession. In the same year (1952) he achieved the promotion as a Dr. rer. nat. at the University of Göttingen, where he was granted his habilitation in 1959. After being a scientific assistant of Prof. Franz Firbas at Göttingen from 1953 to 1961, Lange was docent at the botanical institute of the Technische Hochschule Darmstadt for 2 years. In 1963, he accepted the Chair of Forest Botany in the Forestry Faculty of the University of Göttingen at Hannoversch Münden. In 1967 he went to the University of Würzburg and founded there the Lehrstuhl Botanik II. He resisted offers of distinguished chairs at the Universities of Grenoble, Stuttgart-Hohenheim, Tübingen and Göttingen.

Lange's interest in lichens was aroused after he met the well-known amateur lichenologist Oskar Klement. Since the late forties Lange started collecting lichens and built up his lichen herbarium. One of his early highlights was the discovery and description of Gonohymenia mauretanica (1958), a result of his ecological studies in the Mauretanian desert carried out with Professor Otto Stocker.

Lange can be considered as one of the first who laid the basis for our modem understanding of functions and adaptations of lichens in their habitats. He began his academic career with an investigation of the heat and drought tolerance of lichens and their relations to habitat conditions. His dissertation, published in Flora (1953), is still a well-cited publication. At first his studies were dedicated to the lichen responses to extreme temperatures and drought and investigations of the heavy metal content in lichens. Later he investigated the CO2 exchange in lichens and the influence of major environmental parameters. Lange always used the highest technical standards for his instrumentation and stimulated application of new technical developments. His lichenological work received great attention from botanists in general.

Lange and his coworkers made several key discoveries for lichen physiology and ecology, for instance with respect to the water relations of this poikilohydrously living symbiosis. It was discovered that lichens are able to take up water vapour from the air (first published in 1965 in Naturwissenschaften). Many of his studies were devoted to this phenomenon in the laboratory and in the field, particularly in deserts (Namib, Negev, Chilean little North, Antarctic cold desert). Lange's studies on Ramalina maciformis and other species from the Negev desert in Israel became especially famous. Another milestone was the discovery that cyanolichens differ from green algae-lichens in that they cannot become photosynthetically activated by water vapor uptake (1985). Lange and coworkers also clarified the question whether and how many lichens reveal a reduced CO2 uptake at superoptimal thallus water contents (1980).

Elegantly conducted studies and sophisticated theoretical considerations were recently dedicated to the problem of a swelling-imposed reduction of net photosynthesis. He is also studying rainforest lichens of which our present knowledge is very poor. A lot of unexpected phenomena will come to light through these studies, as already, for instance, the discovery that rainforest lichens from New Zealand can be extremely sensitive to desiccation, and that their water relations are different from what we generally know about lichens. About 80 publications, about 27% of his whole oeuvre, are devoted to lichen research. And now, after his retirement, he intends to strengthen his interest in this subject.

Lange has been highly decorated with many honors. He received several orders, medals and prizes, and is a member of several Academies, including the Deutsche Akademie der Naturforscher Leopoldina (since 1976), the Bayerische Akademie der Wissenschaften, the Akademie der Wissenschaften in Göttingen (1978), and the Academia Scientiarum et Artium Europaea in Salzburg (1991). He was decorated with the Verdienstkreuz erste Klasse des Verdienstordens der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (1981), and the Bayerische Maximilian Orden far Wissenschaften und Kunst (1991). He was awarded the Förderpreis for German scientists within the G.W. Leibniz Programme of the German Science Foundation, the Balzan Award of Israel for applied botany and ecology (1988) and the Adalbert-Seifritz Award for Technology Transfer (1990). He is an honorary member of the Regensburger Botanische Gesellschaft and of the British Lichen Society.

Otto Lange and his laboratory are most attractive to colleagues and lichenologists everywhere in the world. He is not only admired as an excellent, never failing experimentalist and scientist. He is also well known for his welcoming and delightful personality. Thus, he made his lab in Wurzburg a Mecca for ecophysiologists and all other lichen researchers. I think many of us owe him the deepest gratitude for stimulating discussions, fair and fruitful cooperation, teaching and many kinds of help and support, so that it is self-evident to propose Otto L. Lange to be awarded by the Acharius Medal.

Ludger Kappen

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