In the spring of 1998, E.O. Wilson delivered a slide show to members of the U.S. Senate to demonstrate the need for preserving America’s forests, especially ancient forests. He warned lawmakers that when you cut trees, you remove more than vegetation. He said that what you lose is “a vast array of species,” perhaps in the tens of thousands.
Professor Wilson took Senators on a slide show tour of the forest floor to tell them about the insects and organisms that are lost when a forest is clear-cut.
Fighting for insects has been a lifelong mission for Wilson because he recognizes that the survival of the smallest plants and animals goes a long way toward dictating the survivability of humankind.
In one of Wilson’s most important books, The Diversity of Life, he describes how the interconnected natural system is threatened by man’s encroachment. He argues that humankind must realize that all organisms and animals are needed to support a healthy planet:
“Each of these [bacterial] species are masterpieces of evolution. Each has persisted for thousands to millions of years. Each is exquisitely adapted to the environment in which it lives, interlocked with other species to form ecosystems upon which our own lives depend in ways we have not begun even to imagine.”
Wilson describes our encroachment on insects and other species as the “sixth extinction” following the fifth extinction that wiped out dinosaurs.
In accepting the 2007 TED Prize, Wilson told the audience that his life’s work is dedicated to all species, both big and small:
“I’ve come on a special mission on behalf of my constituency, which are the 10-to-the-18th-power — a million trillion — insects and other small creatures, to make a plea for them. If we wiped out insects alone, just this group alone, from this planet, which we are trying hard to do, the rest of life and humanity with it would mostly disappear from the land and within a few months.”
Wilson will kick off EcoSummit 2012 with an address expected to focus on the ecological diversity of Appalachia, which he describes as the second most ecologically diverse area of the world next to the Amazon rainforest.
The two-time Pulitzer Prize winning biologist is the Pellegrino Research Professor Emeritus and Honorary Curator of Entomology at Harvard University. He won the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction in 1979 for On Human Nature and in 1991 for The Ants. Fellow Pulitzer Prize winner Jared Diamond, who will also address EcoSummit 2012, describes Wilson as “one of the 20th century’s greatest thinkers.”
The Ohio State University Professor William Mitsch, chair of the Scientific Committee of EcoSummit 2012, says "no conversation about ecosystem biodiversity would be complete without the contributions of E.O. Wilson. His life’s work has shaped the thinking and understanding of many of us dedicated to ensuring the protection of our natural treasures such as the Appalachian ecosystem.”
See other articles in the June 2012 newsletter: