Human drivers of ecological and evolutionary dynamics in emerging and disappearing infectious disease systems

Mary A. Rogalski, Camden D. Gowler, Clara L. Shaw, Ruth A. Hufbauer, Meghan A. Duffy

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

59 Scopus citations


Humans have contributed to the increased frequency and severity of emerging infectious diseases, which pose a significant threat to wild and domestic species, as well as human health. This review examines major pathways by which humans influence parasitism by altering (co)evolutionary interactions between hosts and parasites on ecological timescales. There is still much to learn about these interactions, but a few well-studied cases show that humans influence disease emergence every step of the way. Human actions significantly increase dispersal of host, parasite and vector species, enabling greater frequency of infection in naive host populations and host switches. Very dense host populations resulting from urbanization and agriculture can drive the evolution of more virulent parasites and, in some cases, more resistant host populations. Human activities that reduce host genetic diversity or impose abiotic stress can impair the ability of hosts to adapt to disease threats. Further, evolutionary responses of hosts and parasites can thwart disease management and biocontrol efforts. Finally, in rare cases, humans influence evolution by eradicating an infectious disease. If we hope to fully understand the factors driving disease emergence and potentially control these epidemics we must consider the widespread influence of humans on host and parasite evolutionary trajectories. This article is part of the themed issue ‘Human influences on evolution, and the ecological and societal consequences’.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20160043
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1712
StatePublished - Jan 19 2017
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We acknowledge support from NSF DEB-1305836 (to M.A.D.) and from the USDA via the Colorado Agricultural Experiment Station (to R.A.H.).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 The Author(s) Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.


  • Contemporary evolution
  • Eco-evolutionary dynamics
  • Emerging infectious diseases
  • Host-parasite coevolution
  • Land-use change
  • Spillover


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