E. O. Wilson - evolutionary biologist, biodiversity advocate, naturalist - dies at age 92 - 12/27/21

Hopefully this news fits in this category, but in any case, the news of E. O. Wilson’s death is an important opportunity to remember and celebrate the accomplishments of an entire life time. I have a link here to the New York Times (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/27/science/eo-wilson-dead.html) - but I am sure other links are available. I just wanted to say that I have followed E. O. Wilson’s work since my graduate school days at Oregon State University in early 1970’s. He inspired my interests in nature and science and to specifically the issues of behavior, habitat, and stewardship. I just finished this book: Scientist: E. O. Wilson: A Life in Nature by Richard Rhodes (published Nov. 9, 2021), and it is worth reading to follow the arc of an entire career dedicated to understanding nature and the role and impact of human interactions with biodiversity. My favorite moment was to meet E. O. Wilson at a book discussion at Sundance, Utah and we chatted briefly - as he signed a paperback copy of one of the books I had - and drew an ant - next to his name. Thank you E. O. Wilson.

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I just read the announcement in the Boston Globe. So sad, even though he was 92. I only heard him speak once, at the annual meeting of the Massachusetts Land Trust Coalition, and he was enormously inspiring. He said then something to the effect of scientists are coming to the conclusion that, if we want to conserve 80% of the remaining species on earth, we need to protect 50% of the land and oceans.

As I was then working on land conservation planning for the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries & Wildlife, I went back to the office and spent bits and pieces of time over the next few months surveying, vis GIS, how much more land the Division and all of the many, many agencies and organizations working on land conservation needed to protect to get to 50% of the state.

At that point, I believe there was something like 27% of the state was protected from development. Once I looked at every single remaining undeveloped parcel or portion of large parcels, I came to the conclusion that, essentially, every single such undeveloped parcel needed to be protected to reach the 50% goal. That was sobering.

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Ugh - now I just heard that Thomas Lovejoy died on the 25th… Sad week for naturalists.

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/article/thomas-lovejoy-obituary

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I will not argue that E.O. Wilson was not an important biologist. His textbook '“The Social Insects” was great. However, he was instrumental in the development of Sociobiology, which I disagreed with (to a certain point). I stopped following him after that, so cannot comment on his later impact.

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He was a lovely person, and I consider him to have been a friend of mine.

The friendship dated back to the two years I worked at the Harvard MCZ (1980 to 1982) in the Malacology Department there, which was in the old building, but not very far from his department in the new building. I took every chance I got to sit with him in the tea room of the MCZ, and we would chat about everything that occurred to us.

He was brilliant, but also very sweet, and he viewed everyone equally. He was not a snob in any way.

About two decades later I took the opportunity to meet E. O. Wilson again, because he was giving a talk here in NYC. I brought my husband Ed too, so Ed could meet him. I was not sure if he would remember me, but he insisted that he did, and I believed him. He was very welcoming and nice to both of us. What a sweetheart!

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Agreed, very friendly every time I had the chance to meet and talk with him, and not elitist at all (which some distinguished scientists certainly can be…). Very down to earth, curious, and working on new ideas/projects even recently. A pleasure and a privilege to have known him.

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I agree 100%.

Some of his final books are very good, like The Social Conquest of Earth and Half-Earth.

Although I corresponded with him on several occasions, I am sorry I was was never able to meet him in person. I am happy though that I was able to name an ant after him several years ago, Neivamyrmex wilsoni.

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Never met him, but having worked on evolution of sociality myself his work was of course an important background for my studies.

Sorry for the loss, but 92 is also a very admirable age and he used his time on earth well…

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Thank you for the book recommendation. We are huge fans and have missed his voice for nature in the public sphere. “Books about” can go either way, so I’m not sure we would have picked it up otherwise. I think so often about a passage in one of his books–Consilience?–where he was talking about the trend for conserving by saving large fauna, and the importance of considering whole ecosystems. I wish I could refind it–he spoke so eloquently about the the complexity of ecosystems and the huge number of microbes and life forms present in a single handful of soil. A sad reason to reread his work, but any reason is a good reason.

He has been and will always be one of my most favourite authors, and someone, who I believe, through his works has influenced me.

His book The Diversity of Life is one of my all time best , and one that I refer other people to frequently, apart from it having a serious positive effect on my understanding of biodiversity.

As a student I wrote to him and told him that his work and books were very influential in my life - he was kind enough to write back, and encourage me as well.

An institution I worked with was transition to a new model of working and Consilience became a must read.

Will certainly start reading his works again.

Yes @hawksthree certainly thank you E.O Wilson - you will be fondly remembered for a long long time all over the world.

@gcsnelling Neivamyrmex wilsoni seems to have no observations and not even a taxon picture. :-(

I met Dr. Wilson once in the late 90’s, when he visited Auburn Univ. I was working there at the Vet school at the time. Though already quite famous, he was happy to sit down in a conference room for conversation with just a handful of researchers – maybe five, definitely fewer than ten of us. A very modest, considerate, earnest gentleman scientist.

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I will see what I can do about fixing that. At best though all I have is a few SEM images.

Anyone know about how many species total were named after him, or the number of species he named in general?

Well, this Live Science article says that he named about 400 species. (I suspect mostly ants.) As to how many are named after him, I did not find any information. The birds with “Wilson’s” in their names were named after Alexander Wilson, 1786-1813, or, in the case of Wilson’s Bird-of-Paradise, Edward Wilson, 1808-1888. That’s the trouble with having a common surname.

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