Legacies & Possible Futures

Toward the end of his life, E. O. Wilson called for setting aside half of the world’s surface as untouchable.Photograph by Steven Senne / AP

When I read the obituary of E. O. Wilson published in the New York Times, written by one of the science writers we link to the most frequently, it was full of surprises–I had not been aware of the many controversies cited.

I was also surprised to see no mention of biophilia, the concept that first drew my attention to the scientist’s work.

Tom Lovejoy spent most of the past forty years trying to preserve the Amazon rain forest.Photograph by Lev Radin / Shutterstock

Then, this morning, I read the tribute by another of our favorite writers, and had a different surprise: we have featured stories referring to conservation biologist Tom Lovejoy only four times previously. It seems a fitting way to start a new year by correcting an old mistake.

Thanks to Elizabeth Kolbert for Honoring the Legacy of E. O. Wilson and Tom Lovejoy:

The two naturalists helped to pioneer the field of conservation biology and remained determinedly hopeful that humanity would make better choices.

Over the weekend, two of the country’s leading naturalists, E. O. Wilson and Tom Lovejoy, died a day apart. Wilson, who was perhaps best known for his work on ants, was a pioneer in the field of conservation biology; Lovejoy was one of the founders of the field. Continue reading

Scientists At Work

This book, about a scientist who has featured in plenty of posts on this platform, is introduced by one of our favorite writers with some juicy gossip from the halls of academia. I had no idea that the biology department at Harvard divided along the lines described here; the how is the juicy part and the why makes some sense–all for the best–knowing what we know now. As an aside, having taken my first calculus course as a doctoral student at age 30, with undergrads as classmates, I had a jolt of painful memory that made me even more respectful of this biologist’s determination.

Silent EarthThe second book reviewed in this essay is one we have pointed to previously, and the research that led to it was also featured much earlier. The backstory presented in this essay brings the science to life, so do read through to the end:

Where Have All the Insects Gone?

Scientists who once documented new species of insects are now charting their perilous decline—and warning about what it will mean for the rest of us.

In the summer of 1942, Ed Wilson, age thirteen, decided that it was time to get serious about research. He had already determined that he wanted to be an entomologist, a choice made partly out of interest and partly out of injury. As a child, he’d been fascinated with marine life. One day, he jerked too hard on a fish he caught, and one of its needlelike spines lodged in his right eye. The lens had to be removed, and, following the surgery, to see something clearly he needed to hold it up near his face. Insects were just about the only animals that submitted to this treatment. Continue reading

When Edward O. Wilson Has Something To Say In Writing, Reading It Is A Top Priority


Credit Jillian Tamaki

Edward O. Wilson invariably focuses our attention on the planet in new and interesting, not to mention critically important, ways. Here he goes again, and the supporting graphics, highly informative maps, alone are worth the read:

The 8 Million Species We Don’t Know

The history of conservation is a story of many victories in a losing war. Having served on the boards of global conservation organizations for more than 30 years, I know very well the sweat, tears and even blood shed by those who dedicate their lives to saving species. Their efforts have led to major achievements, but they have been only partly successful.

The extinction of species by human activity continues to accelerate, fast enough to eliminate more than half of all species by the end of this century. Unless humanity is suicidal (which, granted, is a possibility), we will solve the problem of climate change. Yes, the problem is enormous, but we have both the knowledge and the resources to do this and require only the will. Continue reading

Richard O. Prum’s Beauty Challenge

EvolutionBeautyFor evolutionary biology, on this platform we have favored E.O. Wilson because of his biophilia ideas (about which, plenty). For ornithology, we have leaned heavily on the Lab at Cornell and its many wonderful folks. Now, a scientist at Yale combines both of those fields and takes on the topic of beauty in a challenging manner–I am looking forward to this.

Click the book image at the left to go Indie Bound, a community of independent local bookstores, or if you need more convincing, read the beautifully illustrated Challenging Mainstream Thought About Beauty’s Big Hand in Evolution by James Gorman in the Science section of the New York Times. It is as much profile as review and asks:

Are aesthetic judgments about mates invariably tied to traits we see as adaptive and worth passing on Or, does beauty just ‘happen’?

Not long ago, a physicist at Stanford posed a rhetorical question that took me by surprise.

“Why is there so much beauty?” he asked.

Beauty was not what I was thinking the world was full of when he brought it up. The physicist, Manu Prakash, was captivated by the patterns in seawater made as starfish larvae swam about. But he did put his finger on quite a puzzle: Why is there beauty? Why is there any beauty at all? Continue reading

An Important Question From E.O. Wilson


A bald uakari monkey (Cacajao calvus) in the flooded forest of the Amazon in Brazil. The IUCN Red List categorizes this species as vulnerable. Photograph: Alamy

Thanks to the Guardian for continuing to give a platform where it is most needed with respect to the natural environment:

Could we set aside half the Earth for nature?

Renowned biologist E.O. Wilson wants to set aside half of the planet as protected areas for nature. But is this possible? And, if so, how would it work?

by Jeremy Hance

As of today, the only place in the universe where we are certain life exists is on our little home, the third planet from the sun. But also as of today, species on Earth are winking out at rates likely not seen since the demise of the dinosaurs. If we don’t change our ways, we will witness a mass extinction event that will not only leave our world a far more boring and lonely place, but will undercut the very survival of our species.

So, what do we do?

E.O. Wilson, one of the world’s most respected biologists, has proposed a radical, wild and challenging idea to our species: set aside half of the planet as nature preserves.

Continue reading

How to Prevent Extinction

Illustration by Jon Han for the New York Times

In last Sunday’s edition of the New York Times, the eminent ecologist E. O. Wilson–who we’ve posted about several times in the past for his inspiring and erudite thoughts on nature and biophilia–wrote an opinion editorial on “The Global Solution to Extinction,” in which he partly reminisced about his studies in biology, and also offered his suggestion on how to prevent further extinctions: increase the area of nature refuges, or in other words, boost habitat conservation. Here’s an excerpt of the first half of his piece:

DURING the summer of 1940, I was an 11-year-old living with my family in a low-income apartment in Washington, D.C. We were within easy walking distance of the National Zoo and an adjacent strip of woodland in Rock Creek Park. I lived most of my days there, visiting exotic animals and collecting butterflies and other insects with a net that I had fashioned from a broom handle, coat hanger and cheesecloth. I read nature books, field guides and past volumes of National Geographic. I had already conceived then of a world of life awaiting me, bottomless in variety.

Seventy-six years later, I have kept that dream. As a teacher and scientist I have tried to share it. The metaphor I offer for biological diversity is the magic well: The more you draw, the more there is to draw.

Continue reading

A National Park Provides The Basis For A Unifying Theory Of Nature And Conservation


Screen Shot 2014-11-11 at 4.41.14 PMThe last time we mentioned him, it was upon discovering a new (to us) resource and today we realize we had not yet taken the opportunity to highlight this book which he published earlier this year. His interview in late May, seen here on the website of another foundation that bears his name, is worth watching to help decide whether this book is for you, or not.

The excellent NHBS, a UK-bsed website, has this to say:

A Window on Eternity is a stunning book of splendid prose and gorgeous photography about one of the biologically richest places in Africa and perhaps in the world. Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique was nearly destroyed in a brutal civil war, then was reborn and is now evolving back to its original state. Edward O. Wilson’s personal, luminous description of the wonders of Gorongosa is beautifully complemented by Piotr Naskrecki’s extraordinary photographs of the park’s exquisite natural beauty. A bonus DVD of Academy Award-winning director Jessica Yu’s documentary, The Guide, is also included with A Window on Eternity…(continued after the jump)


Continue reading

Biophilia By Any Other Name

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Thanks to Conservation for their regular daily feature, summarizing important research findings related to the environment, and for reminding us in the story below of the great scientist E.O. Wilson, who might note that the findings below are essentially a reflection of his ideas on biophilia. Click on the banner above to go to a new resource that we have just discovered that honors the scientist, and read on for the scientific findings that demonstrate his genius observation even without referencing him:

We’ve been hearing for a while now how simply being around green space more can be beneficial. Early this year, for example, a study found that moving to areas with more trees and vegetation led to an immediate and prolonged improvement in mental health. Just looking at a tree every now and then seems to give us all a boost. Continue reading

If You Happen To Be In New York April 10

Seth’s third installment is well timed to coincide with an upcoming event covering similar issues (albeit one is an undergraduate’s ornithology student perspective and the other a Harvard superstar entomology professor’s perspective).  Click the image to the left to go to the New York Public Library’s invitation to visit with one of our favorite scientists.  Click here to read more about his upcoming book (and view the three short videos at the bottom of the front page when you click through).  The promo for the event at NYPL says: Continue reading

Ecological Adventure Careers

Click the image above to go to the location of this video featuring ecologist and explorer Mark Moffett who

has trekked across the globe to find his stories and capture them on film. Just like the creatures he photographs, Mark can be found crawling in the dirt or clinging to the tops of trees to get that perfect shot. Joined by a scaly friend, he shares his breathtaking work, urging all of us to go out and find stories of our own. Continue reading

Biophilia: E.O. Wilson, from Thoreau to Theroux

In December 2010 the Oxford English Dictionary (fondly called the OED) added 2,400 entries, including “biophilia“.  But E.O. Wilson published the term (as well as it’s city kin) in 1984 in the book of the same name.

My attention was on the forest; it has been there all my life.  I can work up some appreciation for the travel stories of Paul Theroux and other urbanophile authors who treat human settlements as virtually the whole world and the intervening natural habitats as troublesome barriers.  But everywhere I have gone–South America, Australia, New Guinea, Asia–I have thought exactly the opposite.  Jungles and grasslands are the logical destinations, and towns and farmlands the labyrinths that people have imposed between them sometime in the past.  I cherish the green enclaves accidentally left behind. Continue reading