Pest control

EO Wilson: a field biologist at heart – PCT

Editor’s note: Dr. EO Wilson was Dr. Barbara Thorne’s thesis supervisor at Harvard University. She was a member of his laboratory for 15 years (master’s degree 1978, doctorate 1983, followed by a post-doctorate and fellowships). What follows are his recollections of a remarkable scientist, mentor and friend.

Originally, Edward O. Wilson was a field biologist. He was a natural, curious, and observant naturalist since he was a boy who roamed the forests of Alabama to find and observe snakes, ants, and other exciting creatures. These childhood adventures sparked her understanding and passion for the diversity of life and the complexities of ecological communities, laying the foundation for her commitment to conservation.

Ed approached urban entomology from the perspective of the insect, the perspective he took when exploring any ecosystem. Human structures, water availability, food abundance, sun exposure, yard landscaping, etc. are elements of the habitat that integrative thinkers – EO Wilson or PMP experts – would recognize as influencing a pest’s success.

Dr. Barbara Thorne

These environmental characteristics and knowledge of insect biology are essential to the design and implementation of an effective IPM program. Ed respected PMPs because they are a type of field biologist, examining and analyzing each infestation to inform the best detection, treatment, and prevention strategies based on the creatures habitat and life cycle characteristics.

Ed Wilson had a contempt for invasive pests, not only for their impacts on humans, but also because they displace and disrupt native wildlife, often dramatically altering ecosystems. Two specific examples are fire ants, a long-introduced enemy of Ed’s beloved southeastern United States, and cone-headed termites, currently the focus of an eradication effort led by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services in South Florida.

Ed has followed the conical termite control effort with interest and expressed his support that the eradication of their still limited infestations is achievable. Although it is difficult to stop breeding populations of social insects, Ed acknowledged that cone-headed termites are treatable because colonies can be located when they build conspicuous feeding tunnels and nests, and once found, they can be effectively targeted with precisely delivered insecticides.

Besides being a brilliant scientist and an expansive thinker, Ed Wilson was an extraordinary role model and mentor. He inspired with his prolific writings and lectures, but even more so in person with his remarkable combination of intellect, energy, innovation, wit, ethics and humble modesty, even when he is recognized with prestigious honours.

Ed set very high expectations and standards for his students that motivated us to work hard, think hard and treat people with respect.

Written on January 6, 2022

The author is a research professor and professor emeritus in the Department of Entomology at the University of Maryland. It focuses on termite biology, including studies of evolution, genetics, population biology, behavioral ecology, taxonomy, and systematics. Since 2012, Dr. Thorne has served as scientific advisor to Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services efforts targeting exotic conical termites. She got her doctorate. in Organismal and Evolutionary Biology from Harvard University in 1983.