E.O_Wilson_r
Photo: Robin Holland

E.O. Wilson

Scientist

One of today’s foremost naturalists, E.O. Wilson is among the world’s greatest myrmecologists (ant biologists). A two-time Pulitzer prize winner, he won the 1991 Pulitzer Prize for his book, The Ants, which he co-authored with fellow entomologist, Bert Hölldobler. His first Pulitzer he won for his book, On Human Nature (1979).

Edward Osborne Wilson grew up off the gulf coast of Alabama and Florida, becoming fascinated at a very young age by the diversity of the natural world surrounding him. After blinding himself in one eye while fishing at the age of seven, Wilson gave up bird-watching, deciding to instead “turn towards the little things in life.”

At 13, he discovered the first U.S. colony of fire ants near the docks of Mobile, Alabama. Later, while a professor at Harvard, Wilson used his insect expertise as the basis for larger study into animal and human behavior, releasing in 1975, Sociobiology: The New Synthesis, advancing Darwin’s study of evolution into the realm of behavior.

Perhaps Wilson’s most important work, The Diversity of Life (1992) is about the tremendous interconnectivity of Earth’s biosphere, and how human civilization is gravely threatening its natural symbiosis. Wilson has warned for years, in his books like The Future of Life (2002) and The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth (2006), that over half of the world’s species could die out by the end of the century due to man-made ecological threats, a catastrophe Wilson calls the “sixth extinction.”

While accepting his 2007 TED Prize, E.O. Wilson made a wish: “to help create the key tool that we need to inspire preservation of Earth’s biodiversity…the Encyclopedia of Life.” Among those who answered his call was the MacArthur Foundation, awarding Wilson $20 million dollars to bring the encyclopedia into being.

Wilson is the recipient of the National Medal of Science, the International Prize for Biology, the gold medal of the World Wildlife Fund, the Distinguished Humanist Award from the American Humanist Association and the Crafoord Prize from the Swedish Academy of Sciences.

He recently co-authored two new books, The Leafcutter Ants: Civilization by Instinct (with Bert Hölldobler) and Kingdom of Ants: José Celestino Mutis and the Dawn of Natural History in the New World (with José Gómez Durán), as well as a debut work of fiction titled Anthill: A Novel.