Dr Alexandra Alvergne

Alexandra Alvergne

Associate Professor in Biocultural Anthropology

Fellow of Harris Manchester College 

Dr Alvergne leads the Applied Evolutionary Anthropology Research Group and teaches courses in quantitative methods, evolutionary medicine and public health.

She is also an Associate Editor for the open access journal Evolutionary Human Sciences and is the current chair of the Oxford Biological Anthropology Initiative.

Alex’s interests include evolutionary medicine and public health, applied evolutionary anthropology, human behavioural ecology, reproductive ecology, evolutionary epidemiology and cultural evolution.


Email: alexandra.alvergne@anthro.ox.ac.uk
Tel: +44 (0)1865 284946


Current projects

Overcoming contraceptive discontinuation by overcoming side- effects: paving the way for personalized contraception in Ethiopia

In the developing world, millions of women discontinue hormonal contraception due to the experience of debilitating physiological side-effects (e.g. excessive and irregular bleeding), yet the causes of these adverse effects are poorly understood. This project will be the first to test the hypothesis that side-effects are caused by unnecessarily high dosage of exogenous hormones in hormonal contraceptives (e.g. injectables) compared with women’s endogenous hormones, with the aims of accumulating primary evidence for optimizing contraception to communities and individuals. The research will focus on the use of injectables in Ethiopia, where unmet needs for contraception reach the highest levels in Africa. The project is funded by a Wellcome Trust Seed Grant in Science to A.Alvergne (2018-2020).

Using an evolutionary perspective to understand the adoption of innovations in two Indian societies with contrasting socio-economic systems

Development initiatives do not always succeed in implementing new programs aiming at improving health services (e.g. such as sanitation (pictured)) or agriculture. In collaboration with a biologist from the University of Exeter (Dr S. Lamba), I research the relevance of evolutionary theoretical frameworks for understanding how such innovations may or may not spread in small-scale populations of India without adequate services. She uses a variety of data to better understand how people respond to the introduction of new cultural traits in rural India. While education and “changing culture” are usually considered to be the key for promoting the spread of health services in the public health literature and newspapers alike, practical concerns (e.g. the lack of access to piped water) are generally overlooked. This research is funded by The British Academy and the John Fell Fund – Analyses are ongoing.

Putting Big Data into Action: Combining a Digital Period Tracker with Anthropological Insight to Empower Women to Take Control over their Reproductive Health

Female’s reproductive lives are highly medicalised worldwide today. From the onset of the menstrual periods to the transition to menopause, from sexual behaviour to pregnancies and childbirth, women’s reproductive lives are not (always) in their hands. Any deviation from “the norm” tends to be categorized as biological malfunctioning, a disorder or a pathology that requires medical attention. In the absence of knowledge, women are not in control of their bodies and must subjugate themselves to medical authority, which may be accompanied by anxiety, feelings of guilt and unnecessary treatment. In this context, this project aims to empower women with the means to acquire knowledge of their own bodies. We pair digital health data with a reproduction ecology approach to produce new understandings of the menstrual cycle and female health more generally. 
Selected publications

Frédéric Thomas, Mathieu Giraudeau, François Renaud, Beata Ujvari, Benjamin Roche, Pascal Pujol, Michel Raymond, Jean-François Lemaitre, Alexandra Alvergne (2019) Can postfertile life stages evolve as an anticancer mechanism? PLoS Biol 17(12): e3000565

Alvergne A, Vlajic Wheeler M, Högqvist Tabor V. (2018) Do sexually transmitted infections exacerbate negative premenstrual symptoms? Insights from digital health. Evolution, Medicine and Public Health. 138–50. doi:10.1093/emph/eoy018.

Alvergne A, Högqvist Tabor V.(2018) Is female health cyclical? Evolutionary perspectives on menstruation. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 33:399–414.

Billiard, S., Alvergne, A. (2018) Stochasticity in cultural evolution: a revolution yet to happenHistory and Philosophy of the Life Sciences. 40 (1):9.

Alvergne A, Stevens R, Gurmu E. (2017) Side effects and the need for secrecy: characterising discontinuation of modern contraception and its causes in Ethiopia using mixed methods. Contraception and Reproductive Medicine. 2:24. doi:10.1186/s40834-017-0052-7.

Alvergne, Faurie & Jenkinson (2016) Evolutionary thinking in medicine: from research to policy and practice. Springer.

Clue, Alvergne A. Positive symptoms of PMS. 2016

Voinson, Billiard, Alvergne (2015) Beyond rational decision-making: modelling the influence of cognitive biases on the dynamics of vaccination coverage. PLoS One, 10(11): e0142990

Alvergne (2015) Evolutionary MedicineInternational Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences, 2nd edn.

Alvergne & Lummaa (2014) Ecological variation in wealth-fertility relationships in Mongolia: the central theoretical problem of sociobiology not a problem after all? Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B. 281 (1796), 20141733

Alvergne, Lawson, Gurmu, Clarke, Mace (2013). Fertility, parental investment and the early adoption of modern contraception in Ethiopia. American Journal of Human Biology 25:107-15

Alvergne, Gurmu, Mace (2011). Social transmission and the adoption of modern contraception in rural Ethiopia. PloS One 6:e22515

Alvergne, Lummaa (2010) Does the contraceptive pill alter mate choice? Trends in Ecology and Evolution 25 (3): 171-179

All publications
  • Can postfertile life stages evolve as an anticancer mechanism?

  • Kinship Ties Across the Lifespan in Human Communities

  • Stochastic dynamics of an epidemic with recurrent spillovers from an endemic reservoir.

  • Humans Are Still Evolving, But We Need More Than Evolutionary Genetics to Predict Our Future

  • Is Female Health Cyclical? Evolutionary Perspectives on Menstruation.

  • Do sexually transmitted infections exacerbate negative premenstrual symptoms? Insights from digital health.

  • Stochasticity in cultural evolution: a revolution yet to happen.

  • Side effects and the need for secrecy: characterising discontinuation of modern contraception and its causes in Ethiopia using mixed methods.

  • Evolutionary Thinking in Medicine From Research to Policy and Practice

  • Correction: Beyond Rational Decision-Making: Modelling the Influence of Cognitive Biases on the Dynamics of Vaccination Coverage.

  • More