In central Asia, the great gerbil (Rhombomys opimus) is the main host for the bacterium Yersinia pestis, the cause of bubonic plague. In order to prevent plague outbreaks, monitoring of the great gerbil has been carried out in Kazakhstan since the late 1940s. We use the resulting data to demonstrate that climate forcing synchronizes the dynamics of gerbils over large geographical areas. As it is known that gerbil densities need to exceed a threshold level for plague to persist, synchrony in gerbil abundance across large geographical areas is likely to be a condition for plague outbreaks at similar large scales. Here, we substantiate this proposition through autoregressive modelling involving the normalized differentiated vegetation index as a forcing covariate. Based upon predicted climate changes, our study suggests that during the next century, plague epizootics may become more frequent in central Asia.
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