Biological rhythms are thought to have evolved to enable organisms to organize their activities according to the earth's predictable cycles, but quantifying the fitness advantages of rhythms is challenging and data revealing their costs and benefits are scarce. More difficult still is explaining why parasites that live exclusively within the bodies of other organisms have biological rhythms. Rhythms exist in the development and traits of parasites, in host immune responses, and in disease susceptibility. This raises the possibility that timing matters for how hosts and parasites interact and, consequently, for the severity and transmission of diseases. Here, we take an evolutionary ecological perspective to examine why parasites exhibit biological rhythms and how their rhythms are regulated. Specifically, we examine the adaptive significance (evolutionary costs and benefits) of rhythms for parasites and explore to what extent interactions between hosts and parasites can drive rhythms in infections. That parasites with altered rhythms can evade the effects of control interventions underscores the urgent need to understand how and why parasites exhibit biological rhythms. Thus, we contend that examining the roles of biological rhythms in disease offers innovative approaches to improve health and opens up a new arena for studying host-parasite (and host-parasite-vector) coevolution.
Keywords: Plasmodium; adaptation; chronobiology; circadian rhythm; fitness; host-parasite interactions; life history; phenotypic plasticity; transmission.