UA honors prestigious alum at symposium

Taylor Manning

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Scientists, authors and renowned scholars from around the country will gather this week at The University of Alabama to discuss the future of biodiversity during “Edward O. Wilson Week,” a three-day symposium honoring the world’s leading experts in the field.

Wilson, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and founder of sociobiology theory, is also one of the University’s most recognized alumni.

“I cannot think of any other living biologist who is deserving of such recognition,” said Piotr Naskrecki, a resident research associate who works in the department of entomology at Harvard University. “If you look at his career and just look at the milestones, there’s enough major accomplishments to fill an entire generation of life, not just a single person’s life.”

The one-time symposium features a packed schedule of book signings, speaker presentations, panel discussions and briefings on current research, culminating in a special tribute to Wilson from conservation and environmental groups throughout Alabama.

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Wilson, research professor emeritus at Harvard University, said the event will also serve as a launching point for his latest book, “A Window on Eternity.” The book traces the re-evolution of Mozambique’s Gorongosa National Park, which was nearly destroyed by civil war.

Naskrecki, a long-time associate of Wilson’s at Harvard, collaborated on the book by photographing several of the park’s living species. Unlike Wilson’s 29 previously published books, this one includes extensive wildlife photographs.

“They’re superb,” Wilson said. “We don’t appreciate how good they are. To find those particular creatures and get them in the right spot is enormously difficult. This is not just a book of ideas, which is what I usually write. It’s a book extolling on a part of the environment, which should be experienced by sight, and even sound if possible, as much as by words.”

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Naskrecki is currently teaching a class in Mozambique and will be unable to attend the event, but he praised its mission of evaluating and celebrating biodiversity.

“Biodiversity comprises and creates the world around us,” he said. “It’s every living element in the world put together and each of these elements interacting with each other. Without biodiversity, we humans would not be able to exist. We are part of biodiversity, and we depend on it.”

Another highlight of the event is Wilson’s keynote address, which will examine the state of global biodiversity. Other topics of discussion will include a look at Alabama’s own biodiversity, marine microbes and evolutionary innovations in extreme environments and the relationship between ecology and evolution.

Rebecca Florence, director of college relations in the College of Arts and Sciences, helped coordinate the event.

“It’s always a distinct pleasure to have Dr. Wilson come to The University of Alabama,” Florence said. “Not only is he loved and respected worldwide, but he is one of the nicest gentlemen in the world. We’re delighted to have him here, and we’re looking forward to a long and informative week during the symposium.”

The symposium will run from 7 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday, 7 a.m. to 4:50 p.m. on Wednesday and 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Thursday at various locations on campus. The event requires advanced registration and a $10 minimum admission fee. Wilson’s special plenary address at 7 p.m. on Tuesday in the Moody Music Building Concert Hall is free and open to the public. For a complete schedule, visit biodiversity.ua.edu.

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