Otto L. Lange

From a “Focus on Ecologists” maintained by the ESA Education Office about 2009-2011.


Full Name Otto L. Lange
Degree Dr.rer.nat.
Job Position Professor, retired
Organization Universitaet Wuerzburg, Germany (University of Wuerzburg)
Department Julius-von-Sachs-Institut fuer Biowissenschaften (life sciences), Lehrstuhl fuer Botanik II (chair of botany II)
Professional Affiliation Academic
Research Discipline Plant Physiological Ecology
Research Habitat Not applicable
Describe what you do and briefly describe the activities that your job encompasses I am a retired professor and I am more than eighty years old. After four decades of active work with research, teaching and administration as university professor, I am now finishing up evaluation of the large amount of data that I have collected during field and laboratory work in earlier years when my other obligations did not give me enough time for writing publications. Right now I am concentrating on ecophysiology of lichens and study water relations and photosynthetic production of lichens from “extreme” habitats such as the Namib desert (south-west Africa) and tropical rain forest in Panama.
What do you love most about your job? My present “job” gives me all freedom to do those things which I find most interesting and most satisfying. This is what I love with my present situation.
For each degree you’ve obtained, list the degree, field, and institution. After having completed my studies in the fields of biology, chemistry and physics, I accomplished my doctoral dissertation in 1953 at the University of Goettingen (Germany) with the title “Heat and desiccation resistance of lichens as related to their distribution”. In 1959 I received my qualification as a university lecturer (Habilitation) with a thesis “Investigations about heat regulation and heat resistance of desert and savannah plants in Mauritania”. Field work for this study had been done in the southern Sahara desert.

I have received three honorary doctor degrees:

1995 Doctor honoris causa of the Faculty for Biology, Chemistry, and Earth Sciences of
the University of Bayreuth (Germany)

1996 Doctor honoris causa of the Technical University of Lisbon (Portugal)

2001 Doctor honoris causa of the Technical University of Darmstadt (Germany)

Briefly describe your job path. I have been professor of botany (including forest botany and forest genetics) at different Universities in Germany.
What challenges did you need to overcome? My first challenge with which I was confronted in my scientific life was the problem of instrumentation when I began experimental work for my doctoral thesis in Germany after the war in 1948. My aim had been to apply physiological methods to understand ecological problems in the field. However, even simple equipment for temperature measurements on plants was not available in the destroyed country. This was a desperate situation. However, eventually I began work after my professor was able to buy me a mirror galvanometer from funds of the European Recovery Program (EPR) within the American Marshall Plan. This was a fundamental experience for a young student. This event has very much determined my thinking for my future life, and it has taught me that challenges can be overcome within the great family of scientists – and humans … beyond all borders.
What’s one thing you hope to do in the future? I hope that enough time will still be available for me to write a book in which I plan to describe the wonderful and inspiring experience for an experimental ecologist to sit behind his recorders and watch metabolic performance and plant responses in the field – from the hot desert to the antarctic ice, from the changing weather in the temperate zone to the tropical rain forest.
How do you describe your job when you meet people at a party? I tell people that according to the original definition by Ernst Haeckel, the task of ecology is to study the interrelations between organisms and their environment. The objective of my special field, namely physiological ecology or ecological plant physiology, is to explain plant ecology, such as plant performance, survival, growth and productivity in functional, physiological terms. I then might give people some examples of my work. (1) What are the special features of lichens so that they are able to colonize the most “extreme”habitats of the world, such as in Antarctica or in hot deserts? (2) We studied water relations and photosynthetic productivity of cultivated plants in a run-off farm in the Negev Desert (Israel). The aim of this project was to optimize growth and yield with a minimum of water. (3) Which are the mechanisms that result in damage and eventually death of trees under conditions of acid rain and air pollution and how can we avoid such damage?
What is your family background and what did they think of your career choice? My wife, biologist herself and my two daughters certainly sometimes had to suffer when my scientific work was more important for me than family life. However, my scientific life would have been poor without promotion and advice through my wife.
Who or what inspired you to become a scientist (or other profession)? It was clear to me from my early beginning that I want to “find out” – to become a scientist.
Who currently inspires you? N/A
What is the most valuable advice a mentor gave you or that you would offer to someone who’d like to do the same job as you? You will always perform best if you are able to enjoy what you are doing.
What would you like people to remember about your life as a scientist (or other profession)? I hope that for some time, experimental techniques, findings and thoughts of mine are still mentioned in text books so that young people will be enthused by them.
How do you feel your work has contributed to society? N/A
Award Name 2007 Eminent Ecologist Award Winner
Year originally profiled. 2000


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