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Great Scientists

Edward Wilson

born 1929

Edward O. Wilson, b. 1929, American biologist

Edward O. Wilson, born 1929, is an American biologist, who is often known as the 'father of sociobiology' and the 'father of biodiversity'.

  • Nationality
  • American

  • Subject
  • Biology

  • Fields
  • Environment, sociobiology, biodiversity, biophilia, conservation, myrmecology

  • Distinctions
  • Edward O. Wilson has been awarded many prizes and other distinctions, among which:

    International Cosmos Prize, 2012

    Pulitzer Prize, 1979 and 1991

    Carl Sagan Award for Public Understanding of Science, 1994

    Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement, 1984

  • Posts
  • Professor Emeritus in Entomology for the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University.

    Lecturer at Duke University

    Curator of Insects, Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University.

  • Publications
  • Professor Wilson has won the Pulitzer Prize for General non-Fiction two times for his books:

    On Human Nature, 1978, Pulitzer 1979

    The Ants, 1990, Pulitzer 1991 (co-authored by Bert Hölldobler)

    He has published over 25 books, 13 of which since 2000, including:

    The Social Conquest of Earth, 2012

    Letters to a Young Scientist, 2014

    The Meaning of Human Existence, 2014

    The Theory of Island Biogeography, 1967, with Robert MacArthur, a standard ecology text.

    The Insect Societies, 1971

    Sociobiology: the New Synthesis, 1975

    Genes, Mind and Culture, 1981

    The Diversity of Life, 1992

    Naturalist, 1994, autobiography

    Consilience: the Unity of Knowledge, 1998, which deals with the unity of natural and social sciences.

  • Theories
  • Wilson is considered the world's leading expert in the study of ants (myrmecology). He developed a theory of ant evolution called the 'taxon cycle'. He also discovered that pheromones were the chemicals ants used for communication.

    His paternity by renown extends to the monikers: 'father of sociobiology' and 'father of biodiversity'.

    Island biogeography, the foundation of conservation area design. In collaboration with Robert MacArthur, a mathematician and ecologist, he developed and tested a theory of species equilibrium.

As a member of the Harvard Society of Fellows, he was able to begin his career in the early 1950s travelling widely, collecting and studying ant species around the world, and earning his Ph.D. in 1955 (Thesis: A Monographic Revision of the Ant Genus Lasius).

Edward O. Wilson, b. 1929, American biologist
Edward O. Wilson, b. 1929, American biologist

Throughout his research career he has presented his ideas to a broader public through popular books, in which his biological ideas extend to sociology, nature conservation, religion and ethics.

He has been officially retired from Harvard since 1996, but went on to found the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation, which finances the PEN/E. O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award and is an "independent foundation" at the Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University. Since his 'retirement' he has published profusely, averaging a book a year since the turn of the century.