No one else in biology has ever had a career quite like that of Edward O. Wilson. One of the world’s leading authorities on ants, an influential evolution theorist, and a prolific, highly honored author, E. O. Wilson—his first name comes and goes from bylines, but the middle initial is ever-present—has over several decades been at the center of scientific controversies that spilled out of the journals and into wider public awareness. Among activists in the environmental movement, Wilson is the elder statesman, the intellectual patriarch whose writings are foundational to the campaign. Soon to celebrate his 90th birthday, he shows no sign of losing his enthusiasm for the fray.
“I’ll tell you something about Ed—he’s a bit of an intellectual grenade thrower,” observed David Sloan Wilson (no relation), an evolutionary biologist at Binghamton University in New York. “He likes to be a provocateur. That’s unusual in someone as established as he is.”
Edward Osborne Wilson began his career as a teenager, by identifying and classifying every ant species in his home state of Alabama. By the age of 29, he had achieved tenure at Harvard University for his work on ants, evolution, and animal behavior. Wider academic fame came to him in the 1960s, when he and the noted community ecologist Robert MacArthur developed the theory of island biogeography, which posited how life established itself on isolated, barren outcroppings of land in the mid-ocean. That study would become a pillar of the then formative discipline of conservation biology. [Continue reading…]