Intercontinental movements of invasive species continue to modify the world's ecosystems. The plague bacterium (Yersinia pestis) has colonized and altered animal communities worldwide but has received much more attention as a human pathogen. We reviewed studies on the ecology of Y. pestis in ancient foci of central Asia and in western North America, where the bacterium apparently has become established much more recently. Although rodent populations on both continents are affected dramatically by epizootics of plague, the epidemiologically important species of Asia demonstrate resistance in portions of their populations, whereas those of North America are highly susceptible. Individual variation in resistance, which is widespread in Asian rodents and allows a microevolutionary response, has been documented in few North American species of rodents. Plague increases costs of sociality and coloniality in susceptible hosts, increases benefits of disease resistance in general, and increases benefits of adaptability to variable environments for species at higher trophic levels. Prairie dogs (Cynomys) epitomize taxa with high risk to plague because prairie dogs have uniformly low resistance to plague and are highly social. Relationships to plague are poorly understood for many North American rodents, but more than one-half of the species of conservation concern occur within the geographic range of plague.
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