Plasmodium, the aetiological agent of malaria, imposes a substantial public health burden on human society and one that is likely to deteriorate. Hitherto, the recent Darwinian medicine movement has promoted the important role evolutionary biology can play in issues of public health. Recasting the malaria parasite two-host life cycle within an evolutionary framework has generated considerable insight into how the parasite has adapted to life within both vertebrate and insect hosts. Coupled with the rapid advances in the molecular basis to host–parasite interactions, exploration of the evolutionary ecology of Plasmodium will enable identification of key steps in the life cycle and highlight fruitful avenues of research for developing malaria control strategies. In addition, elucidating the extent to which Plasmodium can respond to short- and long-term changes in selection pressures, i.e. its adaptive capacity, is even more crucial in predicting how the burden of malaria will alter with our rapidly evolving ecology.