Celebrating the Life of E.O. Wilson, Prominent Biologist and Author, Who Died at 92

Edward O. Wilson

Edward O. Wilson, a prominent biologist and prolific author who help raise global awareness and understanding about biodiversity and conservation, has died.

— Wilson began his career studying the biology and social structures of ants which led him to develop expansive theories on evolution and humanity’s relationship with the planet.

— While Wilson’s research was highly influential in scientific circles and won numerous recognitions, he was mostly widely known for his accessible writing, including articles and best-selling books which introduced concepts like biodiversity to the masses.

— Wilson was an outspoken advocate for global conservation efforts.

— Wilson advocated for setting aside half of the Earth as wilderness.

Edward O. Wilson, a prominent biologist and prolific author who help raise global awareness and understanding about biodiversity and conservation, has died.

E.O. Wilson, as he was often known, died on Sunday in Burlington, Massachusetts, according to a statement from the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation. He was 92.

“Ed’s holy grail was the sheer delight of the pursuit of knowledge. A relentless synthesizer of ideas, his courageous scientific focus and poetic voice transformed our way of understanding ourselves and our planet”, said Paula J. Ehrlich, CEO & President of the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation and co-founder of the Half-Earth Project, in a statement.

“His greatest hope was that students everywhere share his passion for discovery as the ultimate scientific foundation for future stewardship of our planet. His gift was a deep belief in people and our shared human resolve to save the natural world.”

EO Wilson
E.O. Wilson / Photograph courtesy of Jim Harrison (CC BY 2.5)

Wilson began his career studying the biology and social structures of ants.

That research led him to develop the concept of sociobiology, which explains social behavior in terms of evolution, and to make major contributions to island biogeography, which became foundational for understanding the effects of habitat size on the diversity of species.

His island biogeography work served as a mathematical basis to forecast species loss resulting from habitat destruction, providing a way to quantify the sixth great extinction currently underway.

But while Wilson’s research was highly influential in scientific circles and won numerous recognitions, he was most widely known for his accessible writing, including articles and best-selling books which introduced concepts like biodiversity to the masses.

He won Pulitzer Prizes for On Human Nature (1978) and The Ants (1990), and received popular acclaim for works like The Diversity of Life (1992), Naturalist (1994), Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge (1998), The Future of Life (2002), The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth (2006), The Social Conquest of Earth (2012), Letters to a Young Scientist (2014), The Meaning of Human Existence (2014), and Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life (2016).

DVD with the words Naturalist E.O. Wilson Lord of the Ants
This episode of PBS's "Nova" follows Wilson's path from authority on ants to Pulitzer Prize-winning evolutionary biologist. / Photo courtesy of Shannon Patrick (CC BY 2.0)

“It would be hard to understate Ed’s scientific achievements, but his impact extends to every facet of society. He was a true visionary with a unique ability to inspire and galvanize,” said David J. Prend, Chairman of the Board of the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation, in a statement.

“He articulated, perhaps better than anyone, what it means to be human. His infectious curiosity and creativity have shaped the lives of so many, myself included, and I feel lucky to have called him a friend.”

Wilson was also an outspoken advocate for the planet’s non-human inhabitants.

He was a driving force in establishing the Encyclopedia of Life, which aimed to catalog the world’s species, and established an initiative to protect half of Earth’s surface for conservation.

He served as an advisor to presidents, international institutions, and leading figures on how to preserve the planet.

Wilson is survived by his daughter, Catherine, and her husband John. He was preceded in death by his wife Irene K. Wilson.

This article was originally published by Mongabay — and was republished with permission

Related: Read E.O. Wilson's most important quotes about nature and life.

Article Details

December 27, 2021 3:54 PM
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