Owen R Jones; Thomas H G Ezard; Claire Dooley; Kevin Healy; Dave J Hodgson; Markus Mueller; Stuart Townley; Roberto Salguero-Gomez;

Published On


Page Range

pp. 211–232


  • English

Print Length

22 pages

9. My Family and Other Animals:

Human Demography Under a Comparative Cross-Species Lens

Chapter of: Human Evolutionary Demography(pp. 211–232)
Like all species, the demography of humans has been shaped under the framework of natural selection. Our understanding of human demography can thus be enhanced by viewing it through a comparative, cross-species, lens and exploring the position of humans among other animal species. Here we use demographic data in the form of matrix population models (MPMs) from humans and 90 other animal species to contextualize patterns of human evolutionary demography. We conduct an additional analysis using human MPM data derived from raw census data from 96 countries over a period spanning 1780 to 2014. For each MPM we calculate a suite of demographic variables that describe multi-component life history strategy and use principal component analysis (PCA) to contextualize human populations among the other vertebrates. We show that, across species, life history strategy can be described by position across two dominant axes of variation and that human life history strategy is indeed set apart from that of other animals. We argue that life history architecture -- the set of relationships among life history traits including their correlations and trade-offs -- is fundamentally different within humans than across all animal species - perhaps because of fundamental distinction in the processes driving within-species and among-species differences. We illustrate strong general temporal trends in life history strategy in humans and highlight both striking commonalities and some differences among countries. For example, there is a general for traversal across life history space that reflects increased life expectancy and life span equality but there is also among-country variation in the trajectories that remains to be explained. Our approach of distilling complex demographic strategies into principal component axes offers a useful tool for the exploration of human demography.


Owen R Jones

Associate Professor at University of Southern Denmark

Owen R. Jones is Associate Professor at the University of Southern Denmark in Odense, Denmark. He has previously held positions at Imperial College, the Institute of Zoology (Zoological Society of London) and the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research. He is broadly interested in life history evolution and the diversity of demographic behaviour across species.

Thomas H G Ezard

Professor of Evolutionary Ecology at National Oceanography Centre

Thomas H.G. Ezard is a Professor of Evolutionary Ecology at the University of Southampton in the UK, where he previously held a NERC Advanced Fellowship. He is interested in how the structure of individuals, populations and communities interacts with environmental change to shape ecological and evolutionary dynamics.

Claire Dooley


Claire Dooley is spatial demographer specialising in mobility, health and well-being. Claire’s work involves developing statistical and geocomputing methods to address knowledge gaps in the field of demography and health. Her research focuses on understanding health characteristics of populations affected by conflict and extreme weather events. Claire has worked on humanitarian response projects with a number of international NGOs, including UNFPA, IOM and REACH.

Kevin Healy


Kevin Healy is a Lecturer at the University of Galway, Ireland. He previously held research positions at the University of St Andrews and Trinity College Dublin. He is broadly interested in macroecology and applying quantitative approaches to a wide range of topics including life history, ecology and evolution.

Dave J Hodgson

Professor of Ecology at the Centre for Ecology & Conservation at University of Exeter

Dave Hodgson is a Professor of Ecology at the Centre for Ecology & Conservation, University of Exeter, UK. He has previously held positions at Imperial College, the Institute for Virology and Environmental Microbiology UK, and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, UK. He is a statistical demographer, epidemiologist and life history theorist.

Markus Mueller

Associate Professor in Applied Mathematics at University of Exeter

Markus Mueller is an Associate Professor in Applied Mathematics at the University of Exeter’s Environment and Sustainability Institute, Penryn, UK. He has previously held positions at the University of Melbourne, Australia, and the Ilmenau University of Technology, Germany. He is interested in dynamical systems and control theory, signal processing and machine learning, with applications in ecology, energy engineering, the built environment, and human health and well-being.

Stuart Townley


Stuart Townley is a Professor at the University of Exeter. He previously held positions at the University of Bath and the University of Warwick. He is interested in modelling, dynamical systems and control, and application across a broad range of areas spanning renewable energy, disease dynamics and ecology.

Roberto Salguero-Gomez

Associate Professor in Ecology at University of Oxford

Rob Salguero-Gómez is an Associate Professor in Ecology at Oxford. His works explore the evolution of senescence in animals and plants, as well as the drivers of life history strategies in stochastic environments.