The 2010 BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in Ecology and Conservation Biology has been granted to Edward O. Wilson. “Prof. Edward O. Wilson is the founder of several major areas of ecology and conservation biology including biodiversity, island biogeography, and sociobiology. As one of the most influential thinkers of our time, he has advocated ways of integrating and uniting the different fields of science, humanities, and the arts – the consilience.
Prof. Wilson is one of the most exceptional biologists in the world as well as an outstanding natural historian. His career in science has expanded on his life-long fascination with the biology of ants to permeate all of ecology and conservation biology. He coined and popularized the term “biodiversity,” now inspiring global conservation efforts around the globe. Prof. Wilson recognized the importance of our inherent connection to nature and other living things in his book ‘Biophilia’.
His early interest in ants led to the founding, with Robert MacArthur, of the theory of island biogeography in the mid-1960s. It also led to his seminal work on chemical communication and pheromones, on insect societies and sociobiology, and ultimately, on the relationships between science and culture. His impact has been truly extraordinary in creating and inspiring new areas of ecology and conservation biology, and indeed of science in general and its popularization. Few biologists working today have not been influenced in some way by his work and writings.
One field of huge contemporary importance initiated by Prof. Wilson was the theory of island biogeography. This has been enormously influential not only in ecology but also in conservation biology. Evidence for extinction resulting from threats to small populations on islands led to the recognition that simply setting aside a parcel of the right habitat for a species will not ensure its persistence. Extensive research has followed on the causes of occasional extinction of small populations on habitat ‘islands’ leading to improved design of nature reserves to minimize extinctions.
Two of Prof. Wilson’s numerous books, on “sociobiology” and “consilience,” have linked human culture to evolutionary ecology. These major works provided a firm basis for the new discipline of evolutionary psychology that is currently revolutionizing fields as disparate as anthropology, linguistics, and history. Throughout his career Prof. Wilson has penned a series of books that have produced a remarkable impact in biology and beyond, and he is unique in having been awarded two Pulitzer Prizes for general non-fiction. His rich and diverse accomplishments have influenced very deeply not only ecology and conservation biology, but also many other fields of human endeavor. He has contributed much to making our society aware of biodiversity, and cognizant of why humanity should be committed to sustaining the diversity of life on Earth.”