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No evidence for persistent natural plague reservoirs in historical and modern Europe

Stenseth, Nils Chr, Tao, Yuxin, Zhang, Chutian, Bramanti, Barbara, Büntgen, Ulf, Cong, Xianbin, Cui, Yujun, Zhou, Hu, Dawson, Lorna A., Mooney, Sacha J., Li, Dong, Fell, Henry G., Cohn, Samuel, Sebbane, Florent, Slavin, Philip, Liang, Wannian, Tong, Howell, Yang, Ruifu and Xu, Lei (2022) No evidence for persistent natural plague reservoirs in historical and modern Europe. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 119 (51). ISSN 0027-8424

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Identification Number: 10.1073/pnas.2209816119


Caused by Yersinia pestis, plague ravaged the world through three known pandemics: the First or the Justinianic (6th–8th century); the Second (beginning with the Black Death during c.1338–1353 and lasting until the 19th century); and the Third (which became global in 1894). It is debatable whether Y. pestis persisted in European wildlife reservoirs or was repeatedly introduced from outside Europe (as covered by European Union and the British Isles). Here, we analyze environmental data (soil characteristics and climate) from active Chinese plague reservoirs to assess whether such environmental conditions in Europe had ever supported “natural plague reservoirs”. We have used new statistical methods which are validated through predicting the presence of modern plague reservoirs in the western United States. We find no support for persistent natural plague reservoirs in either historical or modern Europe. Two factors make Europe unfavorable for long-term plague reservoirs: 1) Soil texture and biochemistry and 2) low rodent diversity. By comparing rodent communities in Europe with those in China and the United States, we conclude that a lack of suitable host species might be the main reason for the absence of plague reservoirs in Europe today. These findings support the hypothesis that long-term plague reservoirs did not exist in Europe and therefore question the importance of wildlife rodent species as the primary plague hosts in Europe.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2022 The Authors
Divisions: Statistics
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > G Geography (General)
R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine
Date Deposited: 03 Jan 2023 14:57
Last Modified: 17 May 2024 06:39

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