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Classical epidemic theory focuses on directly transmitted pathogens, but many pathogens are instead transmitted when hosts encounter infectious particles. Theory has shown that for such diseases pathogen persistence time in the environment can strongly affect disease dynamics, but estimates of persistence time, and consequently tests of the theory, are extremely rare. We consider the consequences of persistence time for the dynamics of the gypsy moth baculovirus, a pathogen transmitted when larvae consume foliage contaminated with particles released from infectious cadavers. Using field-transmission experiments, we are able to estimate persistence time under natural conditions, and inserting our estimates into a standard epidemic model suggests that epidemics are often terminated by a combination of pupation and burnout rather than by burnout alone, as predicted by theory. Extending our models to allow for multiple generations, and including environmental transmission over the winter, suggests that the virus may survive over the long term even in the absence of complex persistence mechanisms, such as environmental reservoirs or covert infections. Our work suggests that estimates of persistence times can lead to a deeper understanding of environmentally transmitted pathogens and illustrates the usefulness of experiments that are closely tied to mathematical models. © 2012 by The University of Chicago.

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American Naturalist