Alongside British naturalist David
Attenborough, Wilson was considered one of the world’s leading authorities on
natural history and conservation.
Wilson’s Half-Earth Project calls for
protecting half the planet’s land and sea so there are enough diverse and
well-connected ecosystems to reverse the course of species extinction, which is
happening at a rate not seen in 10 million years.
The United Nations has urged countries to
commit to conserving 30% of their land and water – almost double the area now
under some form of protection – by 2030, a target known as “30 by 30”
and inspired in part by Wilson.
Born in the southern US state of Alabama,
Wilson’s trajectory as an entomologist, someone who studies insects, was set at
the age of 10, when he spent hours in the woods collecting bugs and
He went on to spend 70 years as a scientist at
Harvard University, putting in time as a professor and curator in entomology.
Through his career, Wilson discovered more than 400 species of ants. He said
one of his greatest achievements was working out how ants communicate danger
and food trails, for example, by emitting chemicals.
Wilson attracted controversy when his 1975
book “Sociobiology: the New Synthesis” was interpreted by some
scientists as implying that human behaviours like altruism or hostility are
determined by genes, or “nature”, rather than environment, or
“nurture”. Critics at the time decried the theory as carrying echoes
He had been living in a retirement community
in the northeastern United States and had recently published the latest in a
long series of books on biodiversity.