Edward O. Wilson, biologist and author who has conducted pioneering work on biodiversity, insects and human nature, and who has also won two Pulitzer Prizes, died Sunday in Burlington, Mass. He was 92 years old.
His death Announced Monday by the EO Wilson Biodiversity Foundation. The cause of death was not given.
Dr. Wilson’s daughter Catherine survived. He was preceded by his wife, Irene K. Wilson.
“Ed’s holy grail was his sole pleasure in the pursuit of knowledge,” Paula J. Ehrlich, CEO and president of the EO Wilson Biodiversity Foundation and co-founder of the Half-Earth Project, said in a statement. “A ruthless synthesizer of ideas, her bold scientific focus and poetic voice have changed the way we understand ourselves and our planet.”
Dr. When Wilson began his career in evolutionary biology in the 1950s, the study of animals and plants seemed to many scientists a strange, outdated hobby. Molecular biologists were getting their first impressions of DNA, proteins, and other invisible foundations of life. Dr. Wilson made it his life’s task to put evolution on an equal footing.
“How can our seemingly old-fashioned subjects achieve a new level of intellectual rigor and originality compared to molecular biology?” Dr. Wilson recalled in 2009. He answered his own question by pioneering new areas of research.
Insect expert Dr. By examining the evolution of behavior, Wilson explored how natural selection and other forces could produce something as extraordinarily complex as an ant colony. He later advocated this type of research as a way to make sense of all behavior, including ours.
As part of his campaign, Dr. Wilson wrote a series of books that influenced scientists and also won a wide public audience. “On Human Nature” won the 1979 Pulitzer Prize for general non-fiction; Dr. “Ants,” which Wilson wrote with longtime colleague Bert Hölldobler, earned him his second Pulitzer in 1991.
Dr. Wilson was also a pioneer in biodiversity research and developed a mathematical approach to the questions of why different places have different numbers of species. Later in his career, Dr. Wilson has become one of the world’s leading voices in the conservation of endangered wildlife.
A 46-year professor at Harvard, Dr. Wilson was famous for his shy demeanor and gentle Southern charm, but they hid a fierce determination. By his own admission, he had been “driven by the amphetamine of greed”.
These ambitions earned him many critics. Some denounced what they considered simplified explanations of human nature. Other evolutionary biologists attacked him late in his career for reversing their views on natural selection.
But while his legacy is complex, it remains profound. Dr. “He was a visionary on multiple fronts,” said Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, a former student of Wilson’s and professor emeritus at the University of California, Davis, in a 2019 interview.
Derrick Bryan Taylor contributing reporting.