"Father of sociobiology" E.O. Wilson discussed the wealth of the natural world and the necessity of preserving biodiversity on Tuesday at the Reynolds Theater.
Wilson’s talk, titled “The Diversity of Life,” was sponsored by the Nicholas School of the Environment and the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation. It follows an agreement between Duke and the foundation that will bring Wilson, a founding scholar of the study of the evolution of behavior, to teach a two-week long graduate course annually at the Nicholas School. starting Spring 2014.
Wilson began his talk by describing the current trajectory of all life on the planet as undergoing a bottleneck, or a devastating reduction in global biodiversity. This bottleneck, he said, is caused by human advancements in science and technology. However, Wilson believes a combination of science, technology, foresight and ethics can mitigate the effects of the bottleneck.
He then spoke about the complexity of life that exists anywhere from a rainforest to a single pinch of soil, which can contain approximately 5,000 or 6,000 species of bacteria that are integral to ecosystem maintenance.
“These little things run the world, and it’s these little things that we’ve only begun to explore,” Wilson said.
He explained that humans have yet to fully realize the diversity that lies within all categories of life from fungi to archaea to insects. It is this tremendous diversity of both known and unknown life that he argued must be preserved—not only for their own sake, but also for scientific advancement and the quality of life of all humanity.
“We have to have a healthy environment," he explained. “You need to have the right microorganisms in your cornfields to grow crops, and the preservation of biodiversity even around our aquafields is vital to maintaining some kind of sustainability in the water system.”
Wilson added that needlessly allowing the destruction of other species could accelerate the destruction of the human race.
“It’s truly an honor to have the opportunity to hear E.O. Wilson speak to us and work with our student body and faculty,” sophomore Vivian Li said. “I can’t wait to see the work and global change that can come out of Duke’s collaboration with his foundation.”