On Christmas 2021, the world lost two of the greatest defenders of life on the planet, Edward O. Wilson (1929-2021) and Thomas E. Lovejoy (1941-2021). They had a lot in common. Both have been recognized as pioneers in seeing what we now call biodiversity. The two scientists worked tirelessly to preserve life on this planet, each in its own way. The result was that their contributions supported the standards we use today for biological conservation.
In their research, Wilson and Lovejoy conclude that larger areas keep more animal species. Hence, the larger the spaces we conserve, the more species that will continue to exist. If we now combine these ideas of conservation and area size with the need to sequester carbon and the influences we now know from forests on climate, we can conclude that biodiversity is one of the pillars of life on Earth. Both scientists have worked actively to educate humanity about the defining moment we live in on this planet, and the importance of preserving natural resources.
They leave a huge legacy, both in the academy and in the dissemination of knowledge, in the education and in public policies. Wilson left many books that influenced generations and helped Lovejoy shape some pillars of environmental activism, such as the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).
Biologists will always be remembered and respected for their example and extraordinary contribution to the conservation of biodiversity, which they called biodiversity.
Edward Wilson’s scientific contributions have been numerous during his long career, through an evolutionary view, to understanding the functioning of life on Earth. He mainly studied ants, including social behaviour. His first synthesis of social insects was the 1971 excellent book Societies of Insects, which has yet to be superseded in scope. In the final chapter, he proposed a theory of social biology, based on his experience and knowledge of the new frontiers of field studies with social vertebrates. It was a unifying theory of the biological underpinnings of social behavior, proposed in detail in the 1975 book Social Biology, the New Synthesis, that aroused much interest.
In his numerous publications, he has addressed human nature, biodiversity, bioconservation, compatibility and the unity of knowledge. Wilson argued that by studying biology from every possible angle, we come closer to confirming that biology is related to the laws of physics. He also highlighted the discussion about bringing the humanities closer to the biological sciences, which became more evident in the Anthropocene.
Since his publication with MacArthur, in 1967, of the classic work on island biogeography, he has consistently addressed the importance of preserving the Earth’s biodiversity, expanding the knowledge base about the distribution of plant, animal, and microorganism species in different regions. sizes. The books on Biodiversity, the Social Conquest of Earth and Half of the Earth, and the Planet Battles for Life were some of the highlights of this famous author, who supports conservation activities, with a Portuguese version. In addition, we highlight the Encyclopedia of Life (in English), in its seven volumes, recent material from education Online, it is very important to disseminate knowledge about biology, biodiversity, environmental and social mechanisms.
Wilson and his broad scientific output have been the basis for numerous courses at the University of the South Pacific’s Institute of Biological Sciences, since the 1970s. He is always happy to have him in the science short videos in the volumes of the Encyclopedia of Life, and he shows his satisfaction with knowing.
In recent years, he has also devoted himself to the Half Earth project, whose page can be visited at half-earthproject.org. His last public remarks were in November 2021 at the Half-Day Earth Meeting, which today brought together leading thinkers and researchers to address biodiversity conservation and current challenges.
It greatly influenced Brazilian biology. He published about 450 scientific works and 30 books, many of which were translated into Portuguese and used by the general public and scholars. Tireless and unusual, he will always be an inspiration to all of us.
Excerpts from Edward Wilson’s book Life on Earth Unit 1:
The student sees a meadow, forest, or lake illuminated by the sun. A biologist sees an entirely different landscape, enlightened by knowledge: knowledge of species, ecological interactions, microscopic communities and subtle energy flows—of chemistry and physics, organs, appetites, and behaviours. By studying evolution, a biologist sees the long history of how the living landscape came to be.”
“By learning to see the world the way naturalists and biologists see it, students can enjoy their planet even more. Their appreciation for the enormous life-sustaining biodiversity will equip them to make better decisions when it is their turn to take care of the living planet.”
“This is the century of biology.” “New discoveries in the molecular and biological sciences are changing the way we live, but this is also a time of urgency. With population growth, we have changed the surface of the planet and now face challenges like never before. Our modern understanding of the environment teaches us that humans have caused the ongoing catastrophic loss of wildlife. Not by using traps but by encroaching on their habitat and leaving them with no place to live. As habitats shrink, biodiversity collapses and the entire ecosystem fails.”
Thomas Lovejoy was a skilled communicator. His discourse, which has included problems and solutions, has always been based on science, biodiversity and, more recently, the threats posed by climate change. He treated everyone very kindly and was an attentive listener. One of the major legacies of this term was the creation of the term “biodiversity”, which later ended up being transformed into the term biodiversity. He worked in the same field of biological conservation, and printed his own style.
Lovejoy has been a passionate researcher of the Amazon since 1965, receiving his Ph.D. in the study of birds. His interview with Revista Fapesp in 2015 tells a lot about his activities in Brazil and around the world, in a much more detailed way. Lovejoy followed the experiments of Brazilian researcher Iñas Salati, at INPA, in the 1970s, which showed that the Amazon produced half of its precipitation. “Moisture that initially comes from the Atlantic Ocean is recycled about 5 times on its way west until it reaches the Andes. There, the air mass rises, cools and releases a large amount of precipitation, which provides 20% of the world’s fresh water, a river system Amazon ”(talk about the volatile rivers). (Highlighted by DW, 12/08/2019).
Lovejoy has been actively involved in research in tropical forests, having developed the Amazon Fragmentation Project, which aims to investigate how fragmentation affects birds, mammals, insects and trees, having studied fragments from one to 100 hectares, with repetition. He found that even a 100-hectare fragment had lost half of the birds within the forest in less than 15 years, and counted this study among his 600 publications. The project evolved into what we know as PPG7, a pilot program to protect tropical forests.
It also reflects his interest until recently in actions in favor of climate and biodiversity, dealing with the impact of global changes on biodiversity.
He has worked for many governmental, non-governmental, and academic institutions, and has broadened his discourse on the importance of rainforests and neighborhood conservation. His activities at the Smithsonian Institution, the World Bank, and the United Nations were also highly influential. He received important awards and honors, but above all he was successful and encouraged the conservation of natural areas, which is the only way for the future survival of man.
She had many collaborators in Brazil. He was a personal friend of Paulo Nogueira Neto, and had a lot of connections. With Carlos Nobre, he recently emphasized the dangers of not bringing the forest back after some level of destruction in the Amazon.
Quoted by Thomas Lovejoy:
“The Amazon was an incredible world, as if I had died and had come to heaven.”
“Conservation is sometimes seen as banning everything. It is up to science to spread the understanding that the choice is not between wild places or humans. It is between being rich or poor.”
“The lesson for mankind is not to fear nature that supports us and where we come from, but rather to restore and embrace nature and understand how to live and benefit from it.”
I hope that everything will be improved through good dialogue between countries. The really unfortunate problem is that after hosting the Earth Summit (Eco 92) in 1992, Brazil has been a global environmental leader for years, almost becoming part of the Brazilian brand. I hope that both Brazil and the United States will soon return to this kind of leadership.”
Whether they produce science, participate in public consciousness, or influence the direction of public policy, the two biologists are among the major figures who have transformed social and environmental ethics in the twentieth century. Edward Wilson and Thomas Lovejoy, as well as Brazilian figures such as Paulo Nogueira Neto, He sees the world and thinks of living things. They were part of a group of thinkers who changed the world for the better, raising status and highlighting the importance of life as a whole.
In accordance with Wilson’s principle that biology is the science of the twenty-first century, it is imperative that Brazil, which has the greatest biodiversity on the planet, takes a proactive stance, and leads the way in sustaining life on our planet.
Marcus Buckridge is director of the University of the South Pacific’s Institute of Biological Sciences, and Vera Imperatriz Fonseca is a professor at the University of the South Pacific’s Institute of Biological Sciences.
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