Remembering E.O. Wilson & the Walden Bioblitz

When E.O. Wilson, the Harvard biologist who devoted his life to protect species passed away earlier this week, tributes from around the world recognized his many accomplishments. He taught generations to look at the natural world in thought-provoking ways. As noted in the Boston Globe tribute:

A scientist-author who appealed to non-academic readers with books such as “On Human Nature” and “The Ants,” both Pulitzer Prize winners, Dr. Wilson exhibited a native Southerner’s gift for storytelling, combined with a seemingly inexhaustible supply of energy and subjects to explore. He belonged to a select group of scientists — such figures as Stephen Hawking, Richard Feynman, and Stephen Jay Gould — whose influence and stature extended far beyond their classrooms, laboratories, and journal articles. Boston Globe tribute

“He was an inspiration for me, a good friend and colleague, and generous man in so many ways” recalled Peter Alden. Dr. Wilson and Peter Alden created the “BioBlitz” concept in 1998 in association with the Walden Woods project. They repeated the event with more than 100 invited experts in 2009, and collectively recorded over 2,700 species within a five-mile radius of Walden Pond.

E.O. Wilson at the Walden BioBlitz

Then in July 2019, they partnered with the Walden Woods Project, the National Park Service, and the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation for the 2019 Great Walden BioBlitz. As a guest of honor and in celebration of his 90th birthday, E.O. Wilson took part. Hundreds of taxonomic specialists, students, families, and other members of the community made more than 4,000 species observations of 1,100 different species.

Peter Alden checks off species at the BioBlitz

On the day of the 2019 event, Dr. Wilson stated:

“The future scientists of the world who will help save biodiversity by creating the disciplines that compose it and making the rapid advances and often radical advances in thinking that will make this increasingly feasible, that this is going to be based on a wholly different way of recruiting and training biologist, and it will be essential, I’m certain, of encouraging them, not that they’re going to have to go through the STEM torcher chamber.”

“They should be empowered, now, they should be scientists right away. And how can that be done? That’s what you’re doing, right here, in bringing young people and engaging them. And so this is to me the great significance of what Peter started with one of his wild ideas back in the 1990s.”

Read an excerpt from an interview on the forming of the 1st BioBlitz

"World Renowned Naturalist and Native Son"

June 15, 2019 - Interviewer: Carrie N. Kline

"A colleague of mine at Harvard University, E.O. Wilson, who's an ant guy, we got to be friends, and we decided to do a twist on the first citizen science effort that's meaningful that was done here in America, and it's been going on for a hundred years: a Christmas bird count. And it just hit me once, how come we're just looking at birds and only doing it in the winter time? Why don't we get together bunches of people and try to identify all of the different, not just birds, but mammals, and reptiles, and fish, and all the different groups of insects, and spiders, and vernal pool creatures, trees, and the shrubs, and the vines, and the wildflowers, and the mushrooms and the mosses and the lichens?

So, Ed Wilson and I decided to put together the world's first Biodiversity Day in 1998, centered on our spiritual home, which is Walden Pond and the surrounding woods and surrounding landscape that Thoreau walked in and canoed in, back in, say the 1840s and the 1850s in particular. So we got together to see if we could get a gang of experts of all stripes of field biology to see if we could see a thousand species in a day here. And we did this on July 4, 1998, in honor of the day that Thoreau moved into his cabin at Walden. So we gathered a hundred or more top experts from the Northeast and went around and managed to see close to 2,000 species, visible things that we could see and identify in one day. And we would have cracked 2,000, but our spider guy got stuck in Cleveland in a plane malfunction. And we're re-doing that this coming July 4, 2009."