Skip to main content

Research Repository

Advanced Search

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; Mooney, Sacha J; Li, Dong; Fell, Henry; Cohn, Samuel; Sebbane, Florent; Slavin, Philip; Liang, Wannian; Tong, Howell; Yang, Ruifu; Xu, Lei

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


Nils Chr. Stenseth

Yuxin Tao

Chutian Zhang

Barbara Bramanti

Ulf Büntgen

Xianbin Cong

Yujun Cui

Hu Zhou

Lorna Dawson

Professor of Soil Physics

Dong Li

Research Assistant

Samuel Cohn

Florent Sebbane

Philip Slavin

Wannian Liang

Howell Tong

Ruifu Yang

Lei Xu


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.


Stenseth, N. C., Tao, Y., Zhang, C., Bramanti, B., Büntgen, U., Cong, X., …Xu, L. (2022). No evidence for persistent natural plague reservoirs in historical and modern Europe. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 119(51), Article e2209816119.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Oct 7, 2022
Online Publication Date Dec 12, 2022
Publication Date Dec 20, 2022
Deposit Date Oct 13, 2022
Publicly Available Date Jun 13, 2023
Journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Print ISSN 0027-8424
Electronic ISSN 1091-6490
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 119
Issue 51
Article Number e2209816119
Public URL
Publisher URL


You might also like

Downloadable Citations