Parasites and human evolution

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31 Scopus citations


Our understanding of human evolutionary and population history can be advanced by ecological and evolutionary studies of our parasites. Many parasites flourish only in the presence of very specific human behaviors and in specific habitats, are wholly dependent on us, and have evolved with us for thousands or millions of years. Therefore, by asking when and how we first acquired those parasites, under which environmental and cultural conditions we are the most susceptible, and how the parasites have evolved and adapted to us and we in response to them, we can gain considerable insight into our own evolutionary history. As examples, the tapeworm life cycle is dependent on our consumption of meat,3 the divergence of body and head lice may have been subsequent to the development of clothing, and malaria hyperendemicity may be associated with agriculture. Thus, the evolutionary and population histories of these parasites are likely intertwined with critical aspects of human biology and culture. Here I review the mechanics of these and multiple other parasite proxies for human evolutionary history and discuss how they currently complement our fossil, archeological, molecular, linguistic, historical, and ethnographic records. I also highlight potential future applications of this promising model for the field of evolutionary anthropology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)218-228
Number of pages11
JournalEvolutionary anthropology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Anthropology


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