90458 - Ecology and Dynamics of Human Populations

Course Unit Page


This teaching activity contributes to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN 2030 Agenda.

Quality education Life on land

Academic Year 2021/2022

Learning outcomes

Il corso si propone di fornire le conoscenze sulla storia e le modalità del popolamento umano, con particolare riguardo al bacino del Mediterraneo, sulle caratteristiche antropologiche delle popolazioni attuali, le relazioni bioculturali e adattative che le stesse hanno istituito con i loro ambienti di vita, nonché sulle dinamiche biologiche e demografiche attraverso le quali si è sviluppata la loro storia evolutiva. Al termine del corso lo studente è in grado di analizzare i fattori e i meccanismi che sono all'origine della mobilità umana e delle dinamiche biodemografiche e di interpretare i complessi rapporti bioculturali fra le comunità umane, l'ambiente e le risorse.

Course contents

The aim of the course is the study, according to an integrated bio-cultural approach, of the complex relationships between the human communities and the geographic, climatic, biotic and cultural factors of their living environment, to understand the adaptive processes and the biological, demographic, demic and genetic dynamics that have characterized their history. The course program will focus on the topics listed below.

1. The problem of the origins and the biological and cultural evolution of man: the process of hominization, the main stages of human evolution and the evolutionary history of the human body; the development of culture and the humanization process; the influence of climate and environmental changes on the evolutionary history of man; diffusion models and dynamics of the Homo genus and of ancient human populations on earth in relation to geographical and climatic variables, resources and technological and cultural achievements.

2. Biodiversity and ecology of human populations: genetic factors (mutation, recombination, genetic drift, gene flow, natural selection) and environmental factors of biological variability in human populations; polymorphism and polytypism. The concept of population. The problem of races. Human ecosystems, ecological niches and biological and cultural adaptation processes: environmental stressors, homeostasis and human adaptability; genetic adaptation and natural selection; phenotypic adaptation and physiological acclimatization; progressive adaptation during development; behavioral and cultural adaptation; bio-cultural relationships. Variability and the biological and / or adaptive role of somatic characters (tegumentary, morphological and metric caracters). The adaptive responses of human populations to biomes of hot climate (savannah, desert and equatorial forest), circumpolar environment and high mountains. Climate adaptations and ecogeographic rules.

3. The relationship of human populations with the food environment and resources: hunter-gatherers; the Neolithic transition; the domestication of plants; the origin and spread of agriculture; the domestication of animals; the economy of resource production; the carrying capacity of the territory; changes in lifestyles and in the relationship with the territory; the urbanization process; the Industrial Revolution.

4. The relationship of human communities with the pathogenic environment: ecological, demographic and cultural aspects of diseases; human/pathogenic coevolution; the impact of diseases on the history of human populations and civilizations.The responses of human populations to the malarial environment (thalassemia, sickle cell disease, G-6PD deficiency and favism).

5. The phenomena of evolutionary mismatch: the cultural and technological evolution, the transformations of lifestyles, food changes and the phenomena of maladaptation and disevolution. Evolutionary mismatch diseases: food intolerances, metabolic disorders, vascular, osteo-articular and neurological diseases.

6. Biodemographic and demic dynamics of human populations: isolation, endo / exogamy, consanguinity and marriage structure of human communities; use of surnames in biology of human populations. The demographic measures, the structure by age and gender, the demographic transition and the diachronic and geographical trend of human populations.

7. Genetics and genomics of human populations: basic concepts of population genetics; genetic markers (blood group, seroprotein and isoenzyme systems; nuclear and mitochondrial DNA polymorphisms). Analysis methods and measures of the genetic diversity of human populations. Phylogenetic analysis and genetic reconstruction of the history and migration dynamics of human populations; the contribution of genetics and genomics in the study of genetic and multifactorial diseases.



Power point presentations provided by the teacher.

G.G. MARTEN: Ecologia umana. Sviluppo sociale e sistemi naturali. Edizioni Ambiente, 2002.

S. STINSON, B. BOGIN, D. O’ROURKE: Human Biology: an evolutionary and biocultural perspective (second edition), Wiley-Liss (2012).

D. E. LIEBERMAN: La storia del corpo umano. Evoluzione, salute e malattia. Codice Ed., 2014.

G. MANZI, A. VIENNA: Uomini e ambienti. Il Mulino, 2009

Teaching methods

The course consists of frontal lectures related to the topics of the programme that can be supplemented by seminars on specific topics. Students will be encouraged to take an active part in the lessons through interventions, questions, requests for clarification and/or insights. During the course computer presentations will be projected, that will be distributed at the students at the end of the lessons.

Assessment methods

The assessment of student learning consists of an oral test, which can be sustained from the first useful scheduled exam after the end of the lessons, concerning the topics indicated in the course programme. At the begin of the exam, the student may propose to deal with a topic of choice, which will obviously follow the verification of the preparation on other topics of the program.

Students not attending. The program of the course is the same for both students attending and not attending. The frequency of the lessons is strongly recommended for the achievement of a good profit, however, students who for valid reasons cannot attend the course are invited to consult the teacher, during the office hours, for the suggestion of the necessary supplementary texts.

Teaching tools

Slide projection and PowerPoint presentations. Seminars on specific topics and case studies held by specialists.

Office hours

See the website of Donata Luiselli