Ant Expert, Sociobiology Founder to Receive Honorary Doctorate
Edward O. Wilson, who is considered the world’s leading authority on ants and the founder of sociobiology, will receive an honorary degree from UT at the Spring 2014 Commencement.
The Board of Trustees on Friday approved plans to honor Wilson, who studied at UT for a short time in the 1950s, with an Honorary Doctor of Science and Letters in ecology and evolutionary biology.
After earning his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biology at the University of Alabama, Wilson came to UT to study with ant taxonomist Arthur Cole. While at UT, Cole and other faculty members saw his potential and assisted him in transferring to Harvard where he earned his doctorate in 1955. Wilson began teaching at Harvard the following year and spent the next forty years on the faculty there. He was the Joseph Pellegrino University Research Professor in Entomology at Harvard and also served as curator in entomology at Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology.
At Harvard, he mentored then-graduate student Dan Simberloff, now UT’s Hunger-Gore Distinguished Professor of Environmental Studies and one of the world’s leading authorities on invasive species Wilson and Simberloff are both members of the National Academy of Sciences; Wilson was elected in 1969, and Simberloff was elected in 2012.
Throughout his career, Wilson discovered more than 450 ant species and is regarded as the founder of sociobiology, the study of the genetic basis of the social behavior of all animals and humans. He was a pioneer in the field of biodiversity studies and edited a key book on the subject for the National Academy of Sciences.
Writer Thomas Wolfe has called Wilson “the new Darwin” and Time Magazine once declared him one of America’s Twenty-Five Most Influential People.
The author of more than twenty books, Wilson has won two Pulitzer Prizes, the first for On Human Nature (1978), and the second for The Ants (1990). His other works include: The Insect Societies (1971), his definitive work on ants and other social insects; Sociobioogy: The New Synthesis (1975), in which he argued that as little as 10 percent of human behavior is genetically induced and the rest the result of environment; The Diversity of Life (1992), which explored the magnitude of biodiversity and the threats to it; his autobiography, Naturalist (1994); and his first novel, Anthill: A Novel (2010), which featured both human and insect characters. His recent books, Letters to a Young Scientist and The Social Conquest of Earth, were both New York Times best sellers.
Wilson has received more than seventy awards for his contributions to science and humanity, including the U.S. National Medal of Science, Japan’s International Prize for Biology, the Crafoord Prize from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, the French Prix du Institut de la Vie, Germany’s Terrestrial Ecology Prize, Saudi Arabia’s King Faisal International Prize for Science, and the Franklin Medal of the American Philosophical Society.
For his conservation work, he has received the Audubon Medal of the National Audubon Society and the Gold Medal of the World Wide Fund for Nature. He is also the recipient of twenty-seven honorary doctoral degrees from North America and Europe.
Now retired, Wilson and his wife, Irene, live in Lexington, Massachusetts.
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