Yesterday (December 26, 2021) the biological community suffered a great loss. Edward Osborne Wilson (more widely known as E.O. Wilson), the so-called “New Darwin”, died at an age of 92 (he was born on June 10, 1929). E.O. Wilson made numerous and all-important contributions to several fields of biology, has written many books, has been awarded the Crafoord Prize by the Royal Swedish Academy (2000, the equivalent of a Nobel prize for fields not covered by the latter), and twice the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction (1979 and 1990). He was the Pellegrino University Research Professor, Emeritus in Entomology for the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University, a lecturer at Duke University, Curator of Insects at Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology, a Humanist Laureate of the International Academy of Humanism, and the list of his honorary doctorates, prestigious awards and medals reaches ca. 200 around the world.
Among his great contributions to biology in the past 60 years, we can cite the concepts of ‘character displacement’ in evolution of closely related species (with William Brown Jr), the use of pheromones in insect communication, the ‘taxon cycle’ for speciation in oceanic islands, a deep knowledge in the biology of ants, and most importantly the Equilibrium Theory of Island Biogeography (with Robert MacArthur), the dominant paradigm in ecological biogeography for more than 50 years. He is most famous, though, as “the father of Sociobiology” after his concise review of the evolution of social behaviour in animals, including humans, in 1975. Along this line of research, he developed the gene-culture coevolution theory (with Charles Lumsden) as well as a group selection-based theory for social evolution of humans. In the last three decades he has devoted most of his energy and activities in conservation of biodiversity, having being named also “the father of biodiversity” for promoting the very concept itself together with efforts to protect it. As a culmination of these efforts he established the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation that recently launched the Half Earth Project aiming to promote the inclusion of half the planet’s area in protected areas for biodiversity.
He served as a Professor at Harvard University for most of his academic life and has published more than 430 scientific papers, some of which have been the most cited in the history of biology, and some 30 books for the general public. In 1995, he was named one of the 25 most influential personalities in America by Time, in 1996 he has been ranked as one of the 100 most influential scientists in history, in 2005 Foreign Policy named ranked him as one of the 100 most important intellectuals in the world, and in 2008 as one of the 100 most important scientists in history by the Britannica Guide.
His books have been translated in many languages, including Greek. The most influential among them are the Sociobiology: The Modern Synthesis (1975), On Human Nature (1978), Genes, Mind and Culture (1981), The Ants (1990), The Diversity of Life (1992), and his epistemological/philosophical major work Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge (1998). Other books with radical novel ideas are The Future of Life (2002), The Superorganism: The Beauty, Elegance, and Strangeness of Insect Societies (2009), The Social Conquest of Earth (2012), Letters to a Young Scientist (2014), The Meaning of Human Existence (2014), Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life (2016), and Genesis: The Deep Origin of Societies (2019).
The legacy of E.O. Wilson in understanding evolution, ecology, behavior, human nature, biodiversity, and the need to live in a species-rich world will guide us and the next generations of biologists and environmentalists for many decades in the future.