Ebola virus is responsible for the fatal Ebola virus disease (EVD).
Identifying the distribution area of the Ebola virus is crucial for understanding the risk factors conditioning the emergence of new EVD cases. Existing distribution models have underrepresented the potential contribution that reservoir species and vulnerable species make in sustaining the presence of the virus.
In this paper, we map favourable areas for Ebola virus in Africa according to environmental and zoogeographical descriptors, independent of human-to-human transmissions. We combine two different biogeographical approaches: analysis of mammalian distribution types (chorotypes), and distribution modelling of the Ebola virus.
We first obtain a model defining the distribution of environmentally favourable areas for the presence of Ebola virus. Based on a review of mammal taxa affected by or suspected of exposure to the Ebola virus, we model favourable areas again, this time according to mammalian chorotypes. We then build a combined model in which both the environment and mammalian distributions explain the favourable areas for Ebola virus in the wild.
We demonstrate that mammalian biogeography contributes to explaining the distribution of Ebola virus in Africa, although vegetation may also underscore clear limits to the presence of the virus. Our model suggests that the Ebola virus may be even more widespread than previously suspected, given that additional favourable areas are found throughout the coastal areas of West and Central Africa, stretching from Cameroon to Guinea, and extend further East into the East African Lakes region.
Our findings show that the most favourable area for the Ebola virus is significantly associated with the presence of the virus in non-human mammals. Core areas are surrounded by regions of intermediate favourability, in which human infections of unknown source were found. The difference in association between humans and other mammals and the virus may offer further insights on how EVD can spread.