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Wilson, Edward Osborne

species behaviour animal sociobiology

(1929– ) US biologist: creator of sociobiology.

Educated at Alabama and Harvard, Wilson taught at Harvard from 1956. He is best known for his remarkable work on social insects and its wider implications in animal behaviour and evolution. In developing his theory on the interaction and equilibrium of isolated animal populations, he and   D S Simberloff (1942– ) experimented on some small islands in the Florida Keys. They first surveyed the insect species present (75 of them) and then eliminated all insect life by fumigation. Study of the recolonization of the islands by insects over some months showed that the same number of species became re-established, confirming their prediction that ‘a dynamic equilibrium number of species exists for any island’. Wilson went on to consider biological and genetic controls over social behaviour and organization in a variety of species in his book Sociobiology: the New Synthesis (1975), which virtually created a new subject, integrating ideas on the behaviour of a range of species from termites to man. The work has both stimulated valuable research and provoked vigorous discussion through its extension of ideas on animal behaviour to include human cultural and ethical conduct.

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