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Edward O. Wilson

Northeastern Naturalist, Volume 12, Special Issue 3 (2005): 2


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Preface EDWARD O. WILSON 1 The Boston Harbor Islands are a natural laboratory seemingly made to order for research and education in biodiversity. They are small as islands go, yet highly variable in size, ecologically relatively simple, with a long history (for the New World) of European influence, and immediately accessible to a major urban center. These features combined offer multiple opportunities for scientific discovery. The variation in area and in the degree of isolation of the islands in this miniature archipelago are ideal for close analysis of island biogeography, at least for plants and less fragile insects and other invertebrates. For such organisms, area and distance to mainland and nearest neighbors are key factors in the determination of biodiversity. The habitats of the islands are simple enough in structure to permit correlative studies of within-island habitat size and occurrence of individual species. Those studies offer in turn the opportunity to explain, at least in part, the reason for the area-species power law for the archipelago. The long history of human occupation and environmental modification of the individual islands is known, and can be worked into explanations of the biodiversity patterns. Many of the species, such as earthworms and centipedes, will be found to be alien introductions, and their role in affecting the environment can be analyzed. The small number of species present (relative to, say, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park) will allow all-species inventories, which will be among the first conducted in the US. An emphasis might (and should) be placed on invertebrates, fungi, and eventually microorganisms. This, again, would be one of the first such initiatives. The concept of microwildernesses can be perfected and tested here. The larger mammals and probably some of the bird and tree species from pre-European days are gone, but a teeming diversity that has been present for thousands of years remains in the invertebrates and other small organisms. A conventional macrowilderness requires an island or an entire archipelago, but a microwilderness requires only a patch of fallow soil. With bioblitzes and some engagement from the large population of professional and amateur naturalists in New England, a Boston Harbor Islands database can be grown rapidly. The public image and educational benefits from such a continuing enterprise, especially if made part of recreation and education, are obvious. 1Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University. Boston Harbor Islands National Park Area: Natural Resources Overview 2005 Northeastern Naturalist 12(Special Issue 3):2