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Edward Osborne Wilson
Brett A. Patton
BIOL 7083
Spring 2014
Picture retrieved from: http://online.wsj.com/news/articles
Wilson’s Background
 Born: June 10, 1929 (Birmingham, AL)
 Spent much of his childhood on the Gulf Coast of
Alabama and Florida
 At age 7: fishing incident left him blind in his right eye
-fateful incident led him to Entomology
-lack of insect pins during WWII narrowed his
interest even further to Myrmecology, since
ants could be studied without the use of insect
pins
 At age 13: discovered the first colony of fire ants in
Mobile, AL
-his findings were not published until age 19
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Education:
B.S. in Biology, University of Alabama, 1949
M.S. in Biology, University of Alabama, 1950
PhD. in Biology, Harvard University, 1955
-started PhD at University of Tennessee but was
invited to Harvard after one year, accepted
because Harvard housed the largest insect
collection in the world
“I had a bug period like ever kid. I just never outgrew mine.”
Wilson, E.O. Letters to a Young Scientist, 2013, WW Norton & Company, ISBN 0871407000
Wilson’s one guideline upon admittance as a Junior Fellow at Harvard:
“We don’t care what you do, what field you go into as long as you accomplish
something -as a Junior Fellow-extraordinary.”
E.O.Wilson’s Curriculum Vitae as of 10 November 2010
 Wilson’s body of work is expansive
and stretches over 60 decades.
http://www.mcz.harvard.edu/Departments/Entomology/wilson_e_o.html
Wilson’s CV (con’t)
Notable Positions:
 Alabama Department of
Conservation: Entomologist (1949)
 Harvard University:
-Professor (1956-1997),
-Pellegrino University Professor,
Emeritus (1997-)
-Curator in Entomology (1973-1997)
-Honorary Curator in Entomology (1997)
Notable Awards in Science (39):
 1976:National Medal of Science
 1994: Eminent Ecologist Award,
Ecological Society of America
 2003: Lifetime Achievement
Award, Institute of Biodiversity
and Ecosystems Studies,
University of Georgia (2003)
 2006:TED (Technology,
Entertainment and Design) Prize
http://www.mcz.harvard.edu/Departments/Entomology/wilson_e_o.html
E.O. Wilson TED Prize 2007
“The TED Prize is awarded to an extraordinary individual with a creative and bold vision to
spark global change. By leveraging the TED community’s resources and investing $1 million
into a powerful idea, the TED Prize supports one wish to inspire the world.”
Wilson’s wish:
“I wish we will work together to help create the key tools that we need to inspire
preservation of Earth's biodiversity. And let us call it the Encyclopedia of Life.”
“The encyclopedia will quickly pay for itself in practical applications. It will address
transcendent qualities in the human consciousness, and sense of human need. It will
transform the science of biology in ways of obvious benefit to humanity. And most of all, it
can inspire a new generation of biologists to continue the quest that started, for me
personally, 60 years ago: to search for life, to understand it and finally, above all, to
preserve it. That is my wish.”
-Wilson, E.O. (2007, March). E.O. Wilson: My Wish: Build the Encyclopedia of Life. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/e_o_wilson_on_saving_life_on_earth.
As Wilson’s dream stands today: Encyclopedia of Life (EOL) is a free, online
encyclopedia with the goal of cataloguing all living species known to science. As of April
2014, EOL had 1,361,256 species pages.
-Encyclopedia of Life. Available from http://www.eol.org. Accessed 14 Apr 2014
Encyclopedia of Life Webpage Example:
-Encyclopedia of Life. Available from http://www.eol.org. Accessed 14 Apr 2014
Wilson’s CV (con’t)
Literary Awards (22):
 Pulitzer Prize, General Non-fiction, On
Human Nature (1979)
 Pulitzer Prize, General Non-fiction, The
Ants (1991)
 Los Angeles Times Book Prize, Science,
Naturalist (1995)
 Wildlife Society Book Award, The Diversity
of Life (1993)
Environmental Awards (33):
 Rachel Carson Legacy Award, Rachel
Carson Homestead Association (2010)
 Lifetime Achievement Award, -National
Council for Science and the Environment
(2008)
 Life Achievement Award, Renewable
Natural Resources Foundation (2002)
 Global Environment Citizen Award,
Harvard Medical School (2001)
http://www.mcz.harvard.edu/Departments/Entomology/wilson_e_o.html
Wilson’s CV (con’t)
 Commander, First Class, Royal
Order of the Polar Star,Sweden
(2009)
 Lifetime Achievement Award,
Time Magazine (2001)
 America’s 25 Most Influential
People, TIME (1996)
 Over 40 Honorary Degrees
http://www.mcz.harvard.edu/Departments/Entomology/wilson_e_o.html
Wilson’s CV (con’t)
 Countless lectures and
keynote speeches at
prestigious universities and
institutes around the world
http://www.mcz.harvard.edu/Departments/Entomology/wilson_e_o.html
Wilson’s CV (con’t)
 Research interests include:
-evolutionary biology
-biology of social insects
-classification of ants
-sociobiology
-biogeography
-ethical philosophy
 Field research in 16 countries
 Over 433 technical articles published
 Over 25 books published including 2
Pulitzer Prize winners
 Articles/Books with over 1,000 citations :
10 (Google Scholar)
-What Is Sociobioogy? (11345 citations)
-The Insect Societies (5171)
-Consilience: The unity Of Knowledge
(4558)
-The Diversity Of Life (4150)
-On Human Nature (2550)
-Biophilia (2058)
-An Equilibrium Theory Of Insular Zoogeography
(1743)
-Caste And Ecology In The Social Insects (1733)
-The Coevolutionary Process (1679)
-Character Displacement (1237)
http://www.mcz.harvard.edu/Departments/Entomology/wilson_e_o.html
Wilson’s CV (con’t)
Notable Articles:
 Brown, W. L. and E. O. Wilson. 1956.
Character displacement. Systematic
Zoology, 5: 49–64.
 Simberloff, D. S. and E. O. Wilson. 1969.
Experimental zoogeography of islands:
the colonization of empty islands.Ecology,
50(2): 278–296.
 Wilson, E.O. 1962. Chemical
communication among workers of the fire
ant Solenopsis saevissima
 Wilson, E. O. 1971. The Insect Societies.
Belknap Press of Harvard Univ. Press,
Cambridge, MA. 548 pp.
Notable Books:
 The Theory of Island Biogeography, with
Robert H. MacArthur (1967)
 The Insect Societies (1971); finalist,
National Book Award,1972; 100 Top
Science Books of Century, American
Scientist (1999)
 Sociobiology: The New Synthesis (1975);
finalist, National Book Award (1976); the
abridged edition (1980)
http://www.mcz.harvard.edu/Departments/Entomology/wilson_e_o.html
The Theory of Character Displacement (1956)
“Two closely related species have overlapping ranges. In the parts of the ranges
where one species occurs alone, the populations of that species are similar to
the other species and may even be very difficult to distinguish from it. In the
area of overlap, where the two species occur together, the populations are more
divergent and easily distinguished, i.e., they "displace" one another in one or
more characters. The characters involved can be morphological, ecological,
behavioral, or physiological; they are assumed to be genetically based. “
-Divergence occurs between two species where they co-occur.
-evolution of differences between groups which can lead to
the formation of new species
-Convergence occurs between two species where they do not co-occur.
-evolution of similar features in species of different lineages
-Brown, W. L. and E. O. Wilson. 1956. Character displacement.Systematic Zoology, 5: 49–64.
The Theory of Character Displacement (con’t)
Example using the two species of rock nuthatches Sitta neumayer and Sitta tephronota
In the range where the two species S. neumayer and S. tephronota occur in relatively equal
number (shown in yellow): S. neumayer shows reduction in overall body size, bill length and eye
stripe while S. tephronota shows an overall increase in all of these characteristics. Therefore,
these species “displace” each other in this region.
-Brown, W. L. and E. O. Wilson. 1956. Character displacement.Systematic Zoology, 5: 49–64.
The Theory of Island Biogeography
 Equilibrium for the number of species is reached at the point of intersection between the rate of
immigration and the rate of extinction.
 When the model consists of species of several islands with varying degrees of isolation and size:
immigration curve will decrease with increasing isolation and the extinction curve will decrease with an
increase in area.
 Linked ecology with conservation biology.
MacArthur, R. H. and E. O. Wilson. 1967. The Theory of Island Biogeography. Princeton Univ. Press, Princeton, NJ. 203 pp.
Chemical Communication Among Workers Of The Fire Ant
Solenopsis saevissima
 Wilson was responsible for the development of pheromone biology
 Collaborated with William Bossert to produce the first basic conception of the
optimal nature and size of pheromone molecules and how to predict the rate and
extent of spread
Four general cases covered:
-(1) substance released as a puff in still air
-(2) substance released continuously in still air
-(3) substance released continuously from moving source, such as laying of an odor
trail
-(4) substance is released continuously in wind
-Cases (1) and (2) intention was to analyze the alarm communication of the harvester ant Pogonomyrmex
badius
-Case (3) intention was to analyze the recruitment trail of the fire ant Solenopsis saevissima
-Case (4) intention was analysis of the sex attractant of the gypsy moth Porthetria dispar.
 Using the 4 cases, Bossert and Wilson were able to create mathematical equations
that would cover most of the conditions under which pheromones can be broadcast
in the terrestrial environment.
 When these equations were applied to real cases, it supported the theory: the
emission rate of the pheromone and the response threshold have been adjusted in
evolution to maximize efficiency with respect to a specific function.
Wilson, E.O. 1962. Chemical communication among workers of the fire ant Solenopsis saevissima (Fr. Smith). 3. The experimental induction of social responses.
Anim. Behav. 10:159-164.
Radiolab. (2009, February 12). Chasing bugs [Sound recording]. Retrieved from WNYC Radio website: http://www.wnyc.org/shows/radiolab
“Father of Sociobiology”
What is Sociobiology?
 Wilson defines sociobiology as: “The extension of population
biology and evolutionary theory to social organization.”
 Attempts to explain social behaviors such as aggression and
altruism
 Based on two fundamental assumptions:
-certain behavioral traits are inherited
-inherited behavioral traits are honed by natural selection
 Systematic study of the biological basis of social behavior in
animals.
 Ended the book with a chapter on how this theory could be
applied to people
-caused much controversy due to the fact that many critics felt this
implicated racism and sexism
-on the contrary, Wilson believed that when Sociobiology is applied to
human behavior, it simply shows that humans have genetic-based instincts
"I have been blessed with brilliant enemies."
Wilson, E. O. 1975. Sociobiology: The New Synthesis. Belknap Press of Harvard Univ. Press, Cambridge, MA. 697 pp.
Other works of Wilson’s worthy of mention:
 On Human Nature (1988):
-asks the question: Is human behavior controlled by species’
biological heritage?
-follow up to Sociobiology and a response to the critics
-explained how Wilson viewed human behavior and what the
applications of Sociobiology are
-silenced critics of Sociobiology and won a Pulitzer Prize for this
work
-foundation for development of Evolutionary Psychology
 Naturalist (2006):
-memoir that chronicles his journey through life
as a scientist
 The Ants (1991):
-Pulitzer prize winner
-Collaborated with Bert Holldobler
-goal was to write everything known about ants
-written for scientists
http://www.mcz.harvard.edu/Departments/Entomology/wilson_e_o.html
Wilson’s CV (con’t)
Notable PhD Students:
 Daniel S. Simberloff:“Experimental
Zoogeography of Islands”
 Aniruddh D. Patel:“A Biological
Study of the Relationship between
Language and Music”
http://www.mcz.harvard.edu/Departments/Entomology/wilson_e_o.html
Wilson as a mentor and advisor to Daniel S. Simberloff:
Assessed the theory of island biogeography
Current Research interests:
-community composition and structure
-community morphological structure
-invasion biology
-biogeography
-statistical ecology
http://eeb.bio.utk.edu
Wilson as a mentor and advisor to Aniruddh D. Patel:
 Patel began studying with Wilson on ants for his
PhD but during fieldwork in Australia he had an
“epiphany”:
“the only thing I really wanted to study was the
biology of how humans make and process music.”
 Amazingly, Wilson’s response to Patel:
“You must follow your passion. Come back to Harvard
and we’ll give it a shot.”
 1996: Patel completed his PhD under Wilson and has since gone on to be
one of the trailblazers in this field of study; neurobiology of music was
not even a recognized field at the time he defended his dissertation
 1998: Patel published a paper that contained the first imaging study
showing what happens when the brain processes musical grammar as
compared with what happens when it processes language
-showed that it occurs in an overlapping way within the brain
Dreifus, C. (2010, May 31). Exploring Music’s Hold On The Mind. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/01/science/01conv.html?_r=0
Wilson is not one to rest on his laurels. Since his “retirement” in 1996, he has gone on to
publish 10+ books and started the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation. He is currently
advising reconstruction of a National Park in Mozambique, the Gorongosa National Park and
working with a group to create the biologically richest park in America, to be located on Gulf
Coast of Mobile and the Delta.
This week he will be speaking during the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Symposium held at his alma mater, The
University of Alabama.
"I have tenure. I've retired, and I'm turning 85 years old...I'm going to tell it like it is."
Wolfe, A. (2014, April 18). E.O. Wilson Tells It Like It Is. Retrieved fromhttp://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303626804579506012946655636
References:
 Brown, W. L. and E. O. Wilson. 1956. Character displacement.
Systematic Zoology, 5: 49–64.
 Dreifus, C. (2010, May 31). Exploring Music’s Hold On The Mind.
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/01/science/01conv.html?_r=0
 Encyclopedia of Life. Available from http://www.eol.org. Accessed 14 Apr 2014.
 MacArthur, R. H. and E. O. Wilson. 1967. The Theory of Island Biogeography. Princeton Univ. Press, Princeton, NJ. 203 pp.
 Simberloff, D. S. and E. O. Wilson. 1969. Experimental zoogeography of islands: the colonization of empty islands.
Ecology, 50(2): 278–296.
 Wilson, E. O. 1975. Sociobiology: The New Synthesis. Belknap Press of Harvard Univ. Press, Cambridge, MA. 697 pp.
 Wilson, E.O. 1962. Chemical communication among workers of the fire ant Solenopsis saevissima (Fr. Smith). 3. The
experimental induction of social responses. Anim. Behav. 10:159-164.
 Wilson, E.O. and W. Bossert. 1963. The Analysis of Olfactory Communication Among Animals. Journal of Theoretical Biology.
Vol 5 (3):443-469.
 Wilson, E.O. and M. Pavan. 1959. Source and Specificity of chemical releasers of social behavior in the dolichoderine ants.
Psyche 65: 41-51
 Wilson, E.O. (2007, March). E.O. Wilson: My Wish: Build the Encyclopedia of Life. Retrieved from
https://www.ted.com/talks/e_o_wilson_on_saving_life_on_earth.
 Wilson, E.O. Letters to a Young Scientist, 2013, WW Norton & Company, ISBN 0871407000
 Wilson, E.O. Naturalist, 1994, Shearwater Books, ISBN 1-55963-288-7
 Wolfe, A. (2014, April 18). E.O. Wilson Tells It Like It Is. Retrieved
fromhttp://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303626804579506012946655636
 http://eeb.bio.utk.edu
 http://www.mcz.harvard.edu/Departments/Entomology/wilson_e_o.html
Questions?
Happy Earth Day.

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