Accounting for population structure reveals ambiguity in the Zaire Ebolavirus reservoir dynamics.
Vrancken B., Wawina-Bokalanga T., Vanmechelen B., Martí-Carreras J., Carroll MW., Nsio J., Kapetshi J., Makiala-Mandanda S., Muyembe-Tamfum J-J., Baele G., Vermeire K., Vergote V., Ahuka-Mundeke S., Maes P.
Ebolaviruses pose a substantial threat to wildlife populations and to public health in Africa. Evolutionary analyses of virus genome sequences can contribute significantly to elucidate the origin of new outbreaks, which can help guide surveillance efforts. The reconstructed between-outbreak evolutionary history of Zaire ebolavirus so far has been highly consistent. By removing the confounding impact of population growth bursts during local outbreaks on the free mixing assumption that underlies coalescent-based demographic reconstructions, we find-contrary to what previous results indicated-that the circulation dynamics of Ebola virus in its animal reservoir are highly uncertain. Our findings also accentuate the need for a more fine-grained picture of the Ebola virus diversity in its reservoir to reliably infer the reservoir origin of outbreak lineages. In addition, the recent appearance of slower-evolving variants is in line with latency as a survival mechanism and with bats as the natural reservoir host.