Open Access Research article

Ecological Niche Modelling of the Bacillus anthracis A1.a sub-lineage in Kazakhstan

Jocelyn Mullins12, Larissa Lukhnova3, Alim Aikimbayev4, Yerlan Pazilov3, Matthew Van Ert2 and Jason K Blackburn12*

Author affiliations

1 Department of Geography, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL, USA

2 Spatial Epidemiology and Ecology Research Laboratory, Emerging Pathogens Institute, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL, USA

3 Kazakh Science Centre for Quarantine and Zoonotic Diseases, Ministry of Health of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Almaty, Kazakhstan

4 Scientific and Practical Centre of Sanitary and Epidemiological Expertise and Monitoring, Ministry of Health of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Almaty, Kazakhstan

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Citation and License

BMC Ecology 2011, 11:32  doi:10.1186/1472-6785-11-32

Published: 12 December 2011



Bacillus anthracis, the causative agent of anthrax, is a globally distributed zoonotic pathogen that continues to be a veterinary and human health problem in Central Asia. We used a database of anthrax outbreak locations in Kazakhstan and a subset of genotyped isolates to model the geographic distribution and ecological associations of B. anthracis in Kazakhstan. The aims of the study were to test the influence of soil variables on a previous ecological niche based prediction of B. anthracis in Kazakhstan and to determine if a single sub-lineage of B. anthracis occupies a unique ecological niche.


The addition of soil variables to the previously developed ecological niche model did not appreciably alter the limits of the predicted geographic or ecological distribution of B. anthracis in Kazakhstan. The A1.a experiment predicted the sub-lineage to be present over a larger geographic area than did the outbreak based experiment containing multiple lineages. Within the geographic area predicted to be suitable for B. anthracis by all ten best subset models, the A1.a sub-lineage was associated with a wider range of ecological tolerances than the outbreak-soil experiment. Analysis of rule types showed that logit rules predominate in the outbreak-soil experiment and range rules in the A1.a sub-lineage experiment. Random sub-setting of locality points suggests that models of B. anthracis distribution may be sensitive to sample size.


Our analysis supports careful consideration of the taxonomic resolution of data used to create ecological niche models. Further investigations into the environmental affinities of individual lineages and sub-lineages of B. anthracis will be useful in understanding the ecology of the disease at large and small scales. With model based predictions serving as approximations of disease risk, these efforts will improve the efficacy of public health interventions for anthrax prevention and control.