'Critical slowing down' in time-to-extinction: An example of critical phenomena in ecology

Amar Gandhi, Simon Asher Levin, Steven Orszag

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51 Scopus citations


We study a model for two competing species that explicitly accounts for effects due to discreteness, stochasticity and spatial extension of populations. The two species are equally preferred by the environment and do better when surrounded by others of the same species. We observe that the final outcome depends on the initial densities (uniformly distributed in space) of the two species. The observed phase transition is a continuous one and key macroscopic quantities like the correlation length of clusters and the time-to-extinction diverge at a critical point. Away from the critical point, the dynamics can be described by a mean-field approximation. Close to the critical point, however, there is a crossover to power-law behavior because of the gross mismatch between the largest and smallest scales in the system. We have developed a theory based on surface effects, which is in good agreement with the observed behavior. The course-grained reaction-diffusion system obtained from the mean-field dynamics agrees well with the particle system.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)363-376
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Theoretical Biology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 7 1998

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • Applied Mathematics
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • Statistics and Probability
  • Modeling and Simulation


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