OBITUARY E.O. Wilson, naturalist dubbed a modern-day Darwin, dies at 92

American biologist EO Wilson poses for a portrait in Lexington, Massachusetts, USA on October 21, 2021. Photo taken on October 21, 2021. REUTERS / Gretchen Ertl / File Photo

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WASHINGTON, Dec.27 (Reuters) – EO Wilson, an American naturalist dubbed the modern-day Darwin whose interest in ants led him to conclude that human nature is ruled by genetics rather than culture, has died Sunday at the age of 92, announced his founding. .

Along with British naturalist David Attenborough, Wilson was considered one of the world’s foremost authorities on natural history and conservation.

“EO Wilson was called ‘Darwin’s natural heir’ and was affectionately known as ‘Ant-man’ for his pioneering work as an entomologist,” the foundation wrote. He did not cite a cause of death but said a tribute to his life was scheduled for 2022.

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In addition to groundbreaking work in evolution and entomology, in his later years Wilson led a campaign to unite scientific and religious communities into a strange couple who he believed presented the best chance at preserving Earth.

Wilson has presented his views in more than 30 books, two of which – “On Human Nature” in 1979 and “The Ants” in 1991 – won the Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction. His writing style was much more elegant than one would expect from a scientist.

He even ventured into fiction – although he stuck to a subject he was familiar with – in 2010 with “Anthill,” a coming-of-age novel about a boy from the Alabama trying to save swamps.

Among Wilson’s most controversial works was 1975’s “Sociobiology: The New Synthesis” in which he wrote that all human behavior was the product of genetic predetermination, not acquired experience. By speaking out in favor of human nature over education, he has sparked a storm of criticism, with his toughest opponents accusing him of being racist and sexist.

One protester threw water on Wilson as he spoke at a conference as others chanted, “Wilson, you’re all wet.” It was, Wilson later said, a matter of pride for him to be ready to seek scientific truth despite such attacks.

He grew up as a Southern Baptist who read the Bible, but moved away from the church as he studied evolution. Wilson would later describe himself as a “provisional deist” – someone who was willing “to accept the possibility that there is some sort of intelligent force beyond our present understanding.”

He successfully linked science and religion in his 2006 book “The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth”, a series of letters written to an imaginary Baptist preacher seeking an ecological alliance to save the Earth .

CHANGES NEEDED TO MANAGE THE PLANET

In a 2011 opening speech at the University of North Carolina, Wilson argued that humanity needs to make changes in the way it manages the planet. “We have Stone Age emotions, medieval institutions and divine technology,” he said.

Wilson once said that destroying a rainforest for economic gain was like burning a Renaissance painting to cook a meal.

He won the National Medal of Science, the highest scientific honor in the United States, as well as dozens of other awards. In 1995, Time magazine named him one of the 25 Most Influential Americans.

Edward Osbourne Wilson was born June 10, 1929 in Birmingham, Alabama. Following his parents’ divorce, Wilson had a nomadic childhood with his father, an alcoholic accountant who later allegedly committed suicide, and frequent moves made it difficult for him to form lasting friendships.

As a result, Wilson came to regard nature as his favorite companion and he spent hours prowling forests, streams and swamps, observing wildlife.

A fishing accident during his childhood led Wilson to myrmecology, the study of ants. A fish’s fin cut off his eye, leaving his vision so impaired that he couldn’t observe larger animals from a distance. Instead, he focused on smaller creatures that he could study up close.

Wilson was 13 years old and living in Alabama when he discovered the first colony of fire ants imported to the United States, according to the Harvard Gazette. He later made another important discovery about ants, proving that they used pheromone excretions to communicate.

Wilson graduated from the University of Alabama and earned a doctorate from Harvard University, where he taught for several decades.

In 2005, the EO Wilson Biodiversity Foundation was established in his name to advance conservation, and in 2008 Wilson fulfilled a dream when The Encyclopedia of Life went live, a Wikipedia-like website. designed to document the 1.9 million living species on Earth. A documentary about his life, “Darwin’s Natural Heir”, was also made that year.

Wilson and his wife, Irene, lived in Lexington, Massachusetts. He had a daughter, Catherine.

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Reporting and writing by Bill Trott; additional reporting from Kanupriya Kapoor in Singapore; Editing by Robert Birsel, Christian Schmollinger, Susan Heavey and Mark Heinrich

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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