Death of American researcher Edward Osborne Wilson, father of sociobiology and defender of biodiversity

His work is so vast that some have believed to see in him a “New Darwin”, when others nicknamed him more affectionately « Ant Man », the ant man. American biologist Edward Osborne Wilson died on December 26, 2021 in Burlington, Massachusetts, at the age of 92.

“It would be hard to underestimate Ed’s scientific accomplishments, but his impact extends to all facets of society. He was a true visionary with a unique ability to inspire and galvanize. He expressed, perhaps better than anyone, what it means to be human ”said David J. Prend, chairman of the board of directors of the EO Wilson Foundation for Biodiversity – a cause embraced by the scholar.

Geneticist Richard Dawkins praised his memory on Twitter: “Sad news of the passing of Ed Wilson. Great entomologist, ecologist, greatest myrmecologist, inventor of sociobiology, pioneer of island biogeography, genius humanist and biophile, Crafoord and Pulitzer Prize, great Darwinian (one exception, the blind spot of kinship selection). Rest in peace. “ This eulogy, with an acid criticism as a coda, mirrors what the researcher, experienced in academic battles, could arouse: immense respect for his erudition and his various contributions to the sciences of evolution, sometimes accompanied by questioning of its conclusions on the origin of behavior, especially human behavior.

At Harvard his whole career

EO Wilson was born June 10, 1929 in Birmingham, Alabama. He consoled himself for his parents’ divorce when he was 8 years old by observing plants and animals. He loses an eye, injured by a hook, while fishing. “The attention of my surviving eye has turned to the ground”, he wrote in an autobiography, recalls the New York Times. He then developed a passion for ants, of which he would become the undisputed specialist, discovering the importance of pheromones. After a doctorate at Harvard, he spent his entire career at the prestigious university.

“He was first of all a very good field naturalist, indicates Laurent Keller (University of Lausanne), who studied the social organization of fire ants as a postdoctoral fellow in his laboratory in the 1990s. In particular, he described a genus of ants which has about a thousand species. “ His encyclopedic knowledge will crystallize in The ants, co-authored with entomologist Bert Hölldobler, Pulitzer Prize winner (1991), one of his many bestselling books. “He had an ease of writing, a gift of synthesis. He was a huge worker. We hardly saw him in the laboratory, he returned every two weeks with 40 handwritten pages, and only two or three erasures ”, admire Laurent Keller.

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Death of American researcher Edward Osborne Wilson, father of sociobiology and defender of biodiversity