An audience of more than 700 people came to listen to Harvard professor and biologist Edward O. Wilson speak about biodiversity, creation and saving the planet Wednesday in the University Center Ballrooms. Wilson came to campus as a part of the Provost Colloquium Speaker Series.
UNC Provost Abe Harraf introduced the guest speaker and spoke briefly about his numerous publications. During his speech, Wilson said this is the century of the environment, and he declared two laws of the world: If the environmental and physical world is saved, then there is a perfect balance; but if only the physical is saved, the world will ultimately lose both.
“We are a biological species in a biological world,” he said. Wilson described the human race as the Star Wars civilization with “stone-age intelligence and God-like technology,” from which humans have caused reckless destruction, including the incredible loss of biodiversity.
Biodiversity is defined as the amount and variety of plants and animals in a given area.
“You do not need to go to a tropical rainforest to study biodiversity,” Wilson said.
Wilson discussed the causes for species extinction with the acronym HIPPO, which stands for habitat alteration, invasive species, pollution, (human) population growth and overexploitation. He provided the example of how invasive species, such as the brown tree snake or zebra mussel, are introduced to environments and can ultimately destroy the ecosystem. With the exponential growth of humankind, the space and resources for the rest of the biological world has been decimated.
Overexploitation of land, such as rainforests, has caused numerous species’ extinction. Wilson spoke about the species cerulean paradise-flycatchers, which could go extinct any day. Many other species have already disappeared. He also provided four slides estimating 1,000 species have been identified as extinct in the past 400 years. In rainforests, ways to slow down the rapid destruction must be found. The Philippine Islands, in 1900, were 70 percent forest — but in 1998, only 22 percent remained.
Wilson said destruction must be stopped because when a forest is reduced by 90 percent, the number of species sustained is cut in half. The most important solution Wilson said is to immediately identify the hotspots with the largest number of species and throw a curtain of protection over them. The technology to solve the problem exists.
“At the end of the day, the direction we (must) take is an ethical one,” Wilson said.