Plague dynamics are driven by climate variation

Nils Chr Stenseth*, Noelle I. Samia, Hildegunn Viljugrein, Kyrre Linné Kausrud, Mike Begon, Stephen Davis, Herwig Leirs, V. M. Dubyanskiy, Jan Esper, Vladimir S. Ageyev, Nikolay L. Klassovskiy, Sergey B. Pole, Kung Sik Chan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

174 Scopus citations


The bacterium Yersinia pestis causes bubonic plague. In Central Asia, where human plague is still reported regularly, the bacterium is common in natural populations of great gerbils. By using field data from 1949-1995 and previously undescribed statistical techniques, we show that Y. pestis prevalence in gerbils increases with warmer springs and wetter summers: A 1°C increase in spring is predicted to lead to a >50% increase in prevalence. Climatic conditions favoring plague apparently existed in this region at the onset of the Black Death as well as when the most recent plague pandemic arose in the same region, and they are expected to continue or become more favorable as a result of climate change. Threats of outbreaks may thus be increasing where humans live in close contact with rodents and fleas (or other wildlife) harboring endemic plague.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)13110-13115
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number35
StatePublished - Aug 29 2006


  • Generalized Threshold Mixed Model
  • Historic and recent climatic conditions
  • Time-series data
  • Yersinia pestis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


Dive into the research topics of 'Plague dynamics are driven by climate variation'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this