By Dennis Liu, Vice President for Education
Today, the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation is focused on three goals:
- Deepen scientific understanding of life on earth;
- Convene people and communities to reimagine our relationship with nature; and
- Inspire action to leave no species behind.
As the Foundation’s Vice President for Education, I strive to achieve these goals by connecting with the students, educators and academic professionals who stand to do the work needed to protect global biodiversity. I recently attended and presented at the Ecological Society of America (ESA) meeting, a gathering of leading research ecologists and conservationists to share the Foundation’s work and to learn from the broader community engaged in ecology and conservation.
I was delighted by the significant number of sessions and workshops on education and the community dimensions of biodiversity, ecology and conservation science. Topics such as the importance of authentic community engagement, inclusivity in urban ecology, diversifying the conservation workforce, and improving learning standards and the quality of environmental curriculum were very present. There is a clear community effort to include a broader constituency of people in the science and action necessary to live better with all people and our fellow creatures.
I presented on our work assessing how using the Half-Earth Map to explore biodiversity and human impacts effects student attitudes to an overflowing room of ecologists interested in improving education, community interactions and, especially, engagement with the next generation of environmental stewards. Our preliminary results indicate that focusing student learning on local biodiversity, rather than in faraway and exotic locales, deepens their appreciation of conservation challenges.
Influenced by my relationship with E.O. Wilson, sometimes called the Lord of the Ants,, I am particularly drawn to conversations about insects. I attended a research symposium on the insect apocalypse that concluded that while we should indeed have concerns about falling insect abundance, we should refrain from exaggerating the declines and data gaps, lest we characterize the situation across all insect groups as an apocalypse. There are well over 1 million insect species on earth, and each one has its own story. The conservation emphasized the importance of citizen- and community-generated data to address the data gaps.
I draw energy and hope from interactions with people who are eager to act for biodiversity —and that’s what I took away from this year’s ESA meeting. The theme of making science more relatable, more accessible to more people is one that left me hopeful and determined to share the work of E.O. Wilson, the Half-Earth Project, and other leading biodiversity scientists and organizations with the young people who will lead the way forward.