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The impact of climate on natural plague foci


The impact of climate changes and geobiocenosis on ecology and evolution of the pathogen, reservoir and vector in the Yersinia pestis system in space and time

Tech Area / Field

  • BIO-SFS/Biosafety and BioSecurity/Biotechnology
  • ENV-EHS/Environmental Health and Safety/Environment
  • ENV-MRA/Modelling and Risk Assessment/Environment

3 Approved without Funding

Registration date

Leading Institute
KSCQZD, Kazakhstan, Almaty

Supporting institutes

  • Institute of Ecology Problems at Kazakh National University the named after al-Farabi, Kazakhstan, Alamaty


  • National Institute of Genetics, Japan, Shizuoka reg., Mishima\nUniversity of Oslo, Norway, Oslo

Project summary

The Project aim. To study the impact of climate and geobiocenosis changes on ecology and evolution of the pathogen, spatial-temporal dynamics of reservoir and vector in the Yersinia pestis system, and to develop recommendations for natural plague foci monitoring.

Current status The plague remains the most dangerous infectious disease for humanity. More than 2,000 cases of human disease are annually registered in the world according to WHO [Plague, WHO, 2009]. Natural foci of plague occupy 1.1 million. km2 of the Kazakhstan territory, where sporadic human infection is registered. The main plague reservoir in the most active and largest centers is Rhombomys opimus Licht; and flea-vectors.

Although plague foci of northern deserts have been continuously active in the 70-80s of the last century, their activity has decreased in recent years (Atlas of Bacterial and Virus Zoonotic Infections Distribution in Kazakhstan, 2010).

On the contrary, there was a tendency to increasing of enzootic area and growth of epidemic danger in the southern regions in the 2000-2012. Expanding the boundaries of the natural focus is noticeable towards the steppe zone in the center and east of Kazakhstan. Epizootics of plague appeared in a number of areas in the Almaty region and in the Caspian region in 2000-2002 after a break of ten years.

Expanding the boundaries of plague foci may occur due to aridity during warming. However, the general laws that determine the features of plague spreading in terms of global warming are not established yet.

Successful monitoring of the plague foci under conditions of climate change requires knowledge not only of the spatial heterogeneity of foci, but also the analysis of abiotic and biotic factors. Finding factors that determine the features of the spread of the plague microbe in relation to climate and biocenosis change has great importance not only for the prediction but also for study of the evolution of Y. pestis and its hosts and for the prospects for existence of foci in the space and time.

It is clear that on the huge territories of the plague foci in Central Asia the elimination of them using the current methods is impossible. Today, "limiting" the plague is carried out by large-scale disinfestation and deratization around the settlements with the use of preparations toxic to humans and domestic animals. Moreover, these treatments should be done on a regular base (annually).

Search of "sanitation" options of relatively small areas is required. It’s linked with the need to develop new methods to reduce the risks of human infection in small villages on the territory of foci as well as popular tourist natural sites.

The emphasis should be on the search for nontrivial ecological and economical methods. One of the methods of creation of “ecological barriers” to limit the spreading of carrier-rodents could be based on environmental changes (including planting of trees and shrubs with the advice of experts). The best place for testing is the Charyn Canyon (a popular tourist object) located 200 km from Almaty. The most visited place of the canyon is relatively small: length of about 2 km, width – below 80 m.

Under the project there will be tested the possibility of using drones - unmanned aerial vehicles for epizootological inspection of plague natural foci area. It will provide detailed information on searching and determining the density of Rhombomys opimus colonies, and other vectors of Yersinia pestis, and enables to control studied area of Rhombomys opimus colonies and occurrence of other reservoir species in the studied area.

In addition, the use of drones will:
- carry out reconnaissance survey of the focal plague territory without involvement of a large number of specialists;
- create and update the map data;
- carry out ecosystem monitoring;
- carry out surveillance of places of concentration and migration of the primary and secondary vectors/carriers.
Following the development of the methodology use drones can be recommended to anti-plague stations for the epidemiological survey of the plague natural foci territory.
As a result of implementation of the project there will be assessed the influence of climate on epizootic activity: changes in risk due to the foci size and activity, the number of Y. pestis strains isolated from rodents-reservoir and flea-vectors of plague. The impact of forest areas in the desert foci on plague reservoir (R. opiums) spreading will be studied.


The International Science and Technology Center (ISTC) is an intergovernmental organization connecting scientists from Kazakhstan, Armenia, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Georgia with their peers and research organizations in the EU, Japan, Republic of Korea, Norway and the United States.


ISTC facilitates international science projects and assists the global scientific and business community to source and engage with CIS and Georgian institutes that develop or possess an excellence of scientific know-how.

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