Plague, caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, is established across western North America, and yet little is known of what determines the broad-scale dimensions of its overall range. We tested whether its North American distribution represents a composite of individual host-plague associations (the "Host Niche Hypothesis"), or whether mammal hosts become infected only at sites overlapping ecological conditions appropriate for plague transmission and maintenance (the "Plague Niche Hypothesis"). We took advantage of a novel data set summarizing plague records in wild mammals newly digitized from paper-based records at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to develop range-wide tests of ecological niche similarity between mammal host niches and plague-infected host niches. Results indicate that plague infections occur under circumstances distinct from the broader ecological distribution of hosts, and that plague-infected niches are similar among hosts; hence, evidence coincides with the predictions of the Plague Niche Hypothesis, and contrasts with those of the Host Niche Hypothesis. The "plague niche" is likely driven by ecological requirements of vector flea species. Copyright © 2010 by The American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.

Document Type




Rights Information

© 2010 by The American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene

Publication Date


Journal Title

American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene