Remembering Alabama’s own E.O. Wilson, a biology giant

Edward O. Wilson, co-author of "The Ants," which won the Pulitzer Prize for general non-fiction, poses for a portrait on June 10, 1991. Wilson, the pioneering biologist who argued for a new vision of human nature in “Sociobiology” and warned against the decline of ecosystems, died on Sunday, Dec. 26, 2021. He was 92.

The last week of 2021 had a sad ending for the scientific fields of ecology, animal behavior, indeed for all of biology. Edward O. Wilson died on Dec. 26.

Wilson’s prestige among modern biologists goes unsurpassed, and tracking the career milestones of such a luminary is both easy and difficult — easy because there are so many notable achievements to choose from; difficult because deciding which ones to select is a humbling task.

How do you appropriately classify the world’s top expert on ants who has also achieved the top tiers of excellence as an evolutionary biologist, sociobiologist, biogeographer and philosopher of scientific ethics? I will stick to fire ants, islands and biodiversity as appropriate topics for an environmental column.

Unknown to me at the time, I first crossed E. O. Wilson’s wake in the 1950s when, as a high school student in Tuscaloosa, I met professor Ralph Chermock. Wilson was already well on his way to becoming Chermock’s most famous student at the University of Alabama, where he completed his bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

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