Wilhelm Barthlott

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Wilhelm Barthlott.

Wilhelm Barthlott (born June 22, 1946) is a German botanist and bionics expert.

Barthlott’s areas of specialization are systematics and biodiversity research, with the main focus devoted to tropical ecosystems and the global distribution of biodiversity.

He is one of the pioneers in the field of biological and technical interfaces. Based on his systematic research on scanning electron microscopy of plant surfaces, he developed self-cleaning (lotus effect) technical surfaces and, in recent years, surfaces which permanently retain air under water. This led to a paradigm shift in particular areas of materials science and facilitated the development of superhydrophobic biomimetic surfaces. This technology has successfully been launched on the market under the trademark Lotus-Effect®.

Barthlott has been honored with various awards and prizes, e. g. the German Environment Prize (Deutscher Umweltpreis). He is a member of the Academy of Sciences and Literature of Mainz, the North Rhine-Westphalia Academy of Sciences and Arts, the German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina, and is a Foreign Member of the Linnean Society of London.


Wilhelm Barthlott studied biology at the University of Heidelberg, Germany. He earned his doctorate in 1973 with a dissertation subject based on systematics and biogeography of epiphytic cacti. After his habilitation he accepted a chair position at the Free University of Berlin (Freie Universität Berlin), where he served as the head of the Institute for Systematic Botany and Plant Geography from 1982 to 1985. In 1985 he was appointed director of the Botanical Institute and Botanical Garden of the University of Bonn (Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn). In 2003 he founded the NEES Institute for Biodiversity of Plants, to which he was subsequently appointed as Managing director. He was instrumental in the reorganization and expansion of both establishments. Barthlott retired as a University emeritus in 2011, but continues being the head of a long-run research project “Biodiversität im Wandel” (“Biodiversity in Change”), initiated by the Academy of Sciences and Literature of Mainz. He is a founding member of several national and international committees and organisations operating in the fields of biodiversity research, botanical gardens and environmental protection.

Fields of work[edit]

Biodiversity research and tropical ecology[edit]

Barthlott has done extensive research focusing on Andean South America, in particular on the taxonomy and morphology of Neotropical cacti and bromeliads, applying scanning electron microscopy to analyze their surface structures. He also studied the structure and status of the vegetation of Madagascar and tropical Western Africa, and the mechanisms for controlling and distribution of tropical biodiversity. Barthlott conducted studies on tropical model systems e. g. tropical inselbergs and epiphytes in tropical forest canopy. His recent works concentrate on the global mapping of biodiversity and its macroecological causal dependencies. In the framework of the BMBF-BIOTA-AFRICA project led by him, biodiversity patterns in Africa as a model continent are analyzed and potential impacts of climate change are investigated.

Systematics and evolution[edit]

Barthlott’s systematic and taxonomic work concentrates on the diversity of particular flowering plant lineages. It is focused on cacti and orchids and in particular on systematic characteristics of the seed coat ultra-structure. Today, molecular systematic research is a central topic of investigation in his work group.

Barthlotts studies on carnivorous plants converged systematic and ecological research. These studies led to the discovery of the first protozoan trapping plant, Genlisea. This genus also exhibits one of the highest evolutionary rates and has the smallest known genome among all flowering plants. The naming of Genlisea barthlottii pays tribute to his investigation regarding this topic. The monotypical genus Barthlottia madagascariensis and seven further species were named after him.


Wilhelm Barthlott was the first botanist to use high scanning electron microscopy systematically in the research of plant surfaces (since 1970). Most prominent among his results was the discovery of the self-cleaning effect of superhydrophobic micro- and nanostructured surfaces, which were technically realized with the trademark Lotus-Effect® from 1998 on. Resulting products are distributed worldwide. The patents and the trade name Lotus-Effect® are owned by the company Sto-AG.

Currently, research on biological interfaces and bionics is Barthlott’s area of central interest, mainly involving atomic force microscopy. Ongoing research areas include air-retaining surfaces on the model of the floating fern Salvinia, which is based on a complex physical principle (Salvinia®-Effect). Technical application of this effect is conceivable in shipping: By means of a reduction in frictional resistance, a 10% decrease in fuel consumption could potentially be achieved.[1]

Honors and awards[edit]

  • 1990 Member of the Academy of Science and Literature in Mainz
  • 1997 Member of the Academy of Science of North Rhine-Westphalia Düsseldorf
  • 1997 Karl-Heinz-Beckurts Award
  • 1998 Nomination for the German Future Prize (Deutscher Zukunftspreis des Bundespräsidenten)
  • 1998 Andrès Bello Medal of President Rafael Caldera of the Republic of Venezuela
  • 1999 Philip Morris Award
  • 1999 German Environment Award (Deutscher Umweltpreis)
  • 2001 Treviranus Medal of the Association of German biologists (Verband Deutscher Biologen)
  • 2002 GlobArt Award (Austria)
  • 2002 Cactus d’Or (Monaco)
  • 2004 Scientist in Residence of the University Duisburg-Essen
  • 2005 Innovation Award of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research
  • 2006 Highest Award of the university competition “Ingenious Inventors” (Hochschulwettbewerb Patente Erfinder) of North Rhine-Westphalia
  • 2007 Maecenas medal of the University of Bonn
  • „Foreign Member“ of the Linnean Society of London.
  • 2010 - 2014 Director of the Board of the International Society of Bionic Engineering (ISBE), Beijing (China)


Selected works biodiversity research and tropical ecology[edit]

  • Márquez, J. R. G., Dormann, C. F., Sommer, J. H., Schmidt, M., Thiombiano, A., Da, S. S., Chatelain, C., Dressler, S. & W. Barthlott (2012): A methodological framework to quantify the spatial quality of biological databases. Biodiversity and Ecology 4: 25-39.
  • Barthlott, W. (2011): Alexander von Humboldt und die Entdeckung des Kosmos der Biodiversität. In: Albach, H. & E. Neher (Hrsg.): Alexander von Humboldt und Charles Darwin – Zwei Revolutionäre wider Willen. Wallstein-Verlag, Göttingen, 35-42.
  • Mutke, J., Sommer, J. H., Kreft, H., Kier, G. & W. Barthlott (2011): Vascular Plant Diversity in a Changing World: Global Centres and Biome-Specific Patterns. In: Zachos, F. E. & J. C. Habel (eds.): Biodiversity Hotspots – Evolution and Conservation. Springer Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2011, Part 1, 83-96.
  • Sommer, J. H., Kreft, H., Kier, G., Jetz, W. Mutke, J. & W. Barthlott (2010): Projected impacts of climate change on regional capacities for global plant species richness. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 277: 2271-2280.
  • Kier, G., Kreft, H., Lee, T. M., Jetz, W., Ibisch, P., Nowicki, C., Mutke, J. & W. BARTHLOTT (2009): A global assessment of endemism and species richness across island and mainland regions. PNAS 106: 9322-9327.
  • Barthlott, W., Szarzynski, J., Vlek, P., Lobin, W. & N. Korotkova (2009): A torch in the rainforest: thermogenesis of the Titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum). Plant Biol. 11: 499-505.
  • Kreft, H., Jetz, W., Mutke, J., Kier, G. & W. Barthlott (2008): Global diversity of island floras from a macroecological perspective. Ecology Letters 11: 116-127.
  • Barthlott, W., Hostert, A., Kier, G., Küper, W., Kreft, H., Mutke, J., Rafiqpoor, M.D., Sommer, J. H. (2007): Geographic patterns of vascular plant diversity at continental to global scale. Erdkunde 61: 305–315.
  • Kreft, H., Sommer, J.H. & W. Barthlott (2006): The significance of geographic range size for the explanation of spatial diversity patterns. Ecography 29: 21-30.
  • Küper, W., Sommer, J.H., Lovett, J.C., Mutke, J., Linder, H.P., Beentje, H.J., Van Rompaey, R.S.A.R., Chatelain, C., Sosef, M. & W. Barthlott (2004): Africa’s hotspots of biodiversity redefined. Ann. Missouri Bot. Gard. 91: 525-535.
  • Nieder, J. & W. Barthlott (eds.) (2001): Epiphytes and canopy fauna of the Otonga rain forest (Ecuador) Results of the Bonn – Quito epiphyte project, funded by the Volkswagen Foundation. Books on Demand GmbH Vol. 1–3.
  • Barthlott, W. & M. Winiger (eds.) (2001): Biodiversity. A Challenge for development research and policy. Springer, Berlin Heidelberg New York Tokyo, pp. 429 1st edition 1998, second corrected printing 2001.
  • Porembski, S. & W. Barthlott (eds.) (2000): Inselbergs: biotic diversity of isolated rock outcrops in tropical and temperate regions. Ecological Studies Vol. 146. Springer-Verlag, Berlin Heidelberg New York Tokyo, pp. 528.
  • Barthlott, W., Lauer, W. & A. Placke (1996): Global distribution of species diversity in vascular plants: towards a world map of phytodiversity. Erdkunde 50: 317-327.

Selected works systematics and evolution[edit]

  • Korotkova, N., Borsch, T., Quandt, D.,Taylor, N. P., Müller, K. & W. Barthlott (2011): What does it take to resolve relationships and to identify species with molecular markers? An example from the epiphytic Rhipsalideae (Cactaceae). Am. J. Bot. 98: 1549–1572.
  • Korotkova, N., Zabel, L., Quandt, D. & W. Barthlott (2010): A phylogenetic analysis of Pfeiffera and the reinstatement of Lymanbensonia as an independently evolved lineage of epiphytic Cactaceae within a new tribe Lymanbensonieae. Willdenowia - Annals of the Botanic Garden and Botanical Museum Berlin-Dahlem, 40: 151-172.
  • Müller, K., Borsch, T., Legendre, L., Porembski, S. & W. Barthlott (2006): Recent progress in understanding the evolution of carnivorous Lentibulariaceae (Lamiales). Plant Biology 8: 748-757.
  • Greilhuber, J., Borsch, T., Müller, K., Worberg, A., Porembski, S. & W. Barthlott (2006): Smallest angiosperm genomes found in Lentibulariaceae, with chromosomes of bacterial size. Plant Biology 8: 770-777.
  • Barthlott, W., Porembski S., Seine, R. & I. Theisen (2004): Karnivoren. Biologie und Kultur Fleischfressender Pflanzen. Verlag Eugen Ulmer, Stuttgart (Englische Ausgabe: Barthlott, W., Porembski, S., Seine, R. & I. Theisen (2007): The curious world of carnivorous plants. A comprehensive guide to their biology and cultivation. Timber Press).
  • Borsch, T., Hilu, K. W., Quandt, D. Wilde, V., Neinhuis, C. & W. Barthlott (2003): Noncoding plastid trnT-trnF sequences reveal a well resolved phylogeny of basal angiosperms. Journal of Evolutionary Biology 16: 1-19.
  • Barthlott, W., Porembski, S., Fischer, E. & B. Gemmel (1998): First protozoa-trapping plant found. Nature 392: 447.
  • Barthlott, W. & N. P. Taylor (1995): Notes towards a monograph of Rhipsalideae (Cactaceae). Bradleya 13: 43-79.
  • Barthlott, W. & D. R. Hunt (1993): Cactaceae. In: Kubitzki, K. (ed.) The families and genera of vascular plants, Vol. II. Springer, Berlin Heidelberg New York Tokyo, pp 161–197.

Selected works bionics and interfaces[edit]

  • . Yan, Y. Y., Gao, N. & W. Barthlott (2011): Mimicking natural superhydrophobic surfaces and grasping the wetting process: A review on recent progress in preparing superhydrophobic surfaces. Advances in Colloid and Interface Science 169: 108-105.
  • Cerman, Z., Barthlott, W. & J. Nieder (2011): Erfindungen der Natur. Bionik – Was wir von Pflanzen und Tieren lernen können. Rowohlt Taschenbuch Verlag.
  • Barthlott, W. & K. Koch (2011): Biomimetic materials. Beilstein J. Nanotechnol. 2: 135–136.
  • Barthlott, W. & K. Koch (eds.)(2011): Biomimetic materials, Thematic Series, Beilstein J. Nanotechnol. 2.
  • Balmert, A., Bohn, H. F., Ditsche-Kuru, P. & W. Barthlott (2011): Dry Under Water: Comparative Morphology and Functional Aspects of Air-Retaining Insect Surfaces. Journal of Morphology Vol. 272:442-451.
  • Koch, K., Bhushan, B., & W. Barthlott (2010): Functional plant surfaces, smart materials. In: B. Bhushan (Ed.) Handbook of Nanotechnology, 3rd Ed. Springer, Heidelberg London New York, p. 1961, pp. 1399–1436.
  • Konrad, W., Apeltauer, C., Frauendiener, J., Barthlott, W. & A. Roth-Nebelsick (2009): Applying methods from differential geometry to devise stable and persistent air layers attached to objects immersed in water. Journal of Bionic Engineering 6: 350-356.
  • Koch, K. & W. Barthlott (2009): Superhydrophobic and superhydrophilic plant surfaces: an inspiration for biomimetic materials. Review Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A 367: 1487-1509.
  • Koch, K., Bushan, B. & W. Barthlott (2008): Diversity of structure, Morphology and Wetting of Plant Surfaces. Soft Matter 4: 1943-1963.
  • Solga, A., Cerman, Z., Striffler, B. F., Spaeth, M. & Barthlott, W. (2007): The dream of staying clean: Lotus and biomimetic surfaces. Bioinspiration & Biomimetics 2, 1-9.
  • Barthlott, W., Neinhuis, C., Cutler, D., Ditsch, F., Meusel, I., Theisen, I. & H. Wilhelmi (1998): Classification and terminology of plant epicuticular waxes. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 126: 237-260.
  • Barthlott, W. & C. Neinhuis (1997): Purity of the sacred lotus, or escape from contamination in biological surfaces. Planta 202: 1-8.
  • Neinhuis, C. & W. Barthlott (1997): Characterization and distribution of water-repellent, self-cleaning plant surfaces. Annals of Botany 79: 667-677.
  • Barthlott, W. (1990): Scanning electron microscopy of the epidermal surface in plants. In: CLAUGHER, D. (ed.): Application of the scanning EM in taxonomy and functional morphology. Systematics Associations’s Special Volume. Clarendon Press, Oxford, pp. 69–94.
  • Barthlott, W. & N. Ehler (1977): Raster-Elektronenmikroskopie der Epidermis-Oberflächen von Spermatophyten. Tropische und subtropische Pflanzenwelt 19, Akad. Wiss. Lit. Mainz. Franz Steiner Verlag, Stuttgart.


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