Extinction of metastable stochastic populations

Michael Assaf*, Baruch Meerson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

157 Scopus citations


We investigate the phenomenon of extinction of a long-lived self-regulating stochastic population, caused by intrinsic (demographic) noise. Extinction typically occurs via one of two scenarios depending on whether the absorbing state n=0 is a repelling (scenario A) or attracting (scenario B) point of the deterministic rate equation. In scenario A the metastable stochastic population resides in the vicinity of an attracting fixed point next to the repelling point n=0. In scenario B there is an intermediate repelling point n= n1 between the attracting point n=0 and another attracting point n= n2 in the vicinity of which the metastable population resides. The crux of the theory is a dissipative variant of WKB (Wentzel-Kramers-Brillouin) approximation which assumes that the typical population size in the metastable state is large. Starting from the master equation, we calculate the quasistationary probability distribution of the population sizes and the (exponentially long) mean time to extinction for each of the two scenarios. When necessary, the WKB approximation is complemented (i) by a recursive solution of the quasistationary master equation at small n and (ii) by the van Kampen system-size expansion, valid near the fixed points of the deterministic rate equation. The theory yields both entropic barriers to extinction and pre-exponential factors, and holds for a general set of multistep processes when detailed balance is broken. The results simplify considerably for single-step processes and near the characteristic bifurcations of scenarios A and B.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number021116
JournalPhysical Review E
Issue number2
StatePublished - 9 Feb 2010


Dive into the research topics of 'Extinction of metastable stochastic populations'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this